Short story: Falling through the Labyrinth by Joseph F. Nacino


The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

For some time, I tried to find my way towards the centre of the station. I encountered dead-ends and paths blocked by fire, metal, and machines. I had to backtrack several times and wondered if I would be killed by a whirring gear out of nowhere, or impaled on an inopportune girder. After the longest hour of my life, I saw my destination: a massive metal ball in the middle of the station, supported by several pylons. With the propulsion rig, I roved over the ball’s surface to find a hatchway into the control centre. Steadying myself against the wall near a hatch, I keyed opened the door and pulled myself into the structure.

The inside of the control centre had a similar appearance to the command centre in the habitat section: a wide, 360-degree view of the whole interior of the station, two chairs instead of one, and a wide array of consoles and banks of monitors. Though it was dark inside the chamber, the viewing glass allowed the industrial lights around the centre to paint the whole chamber a stark white.

As I belted myself on to one of the chairs, my comms link squawked back to life as the Captain spoke through a wall of static, “Hello … come in, over.”

“Captain!” I shouted as I turned on the main console and began typing on the hologram keyboard. “I’m about to initiate the shutdown sequence on Roderick.”

“All right … took you long enough … at my signal … understood?” the Captain said.

“Understood, Captain,” I said as I overrode the security protocols. I typed in several commands and the computer replied with the word: Initiate reset? The cursor blinked at me, querying.

“Ready, Captain,” I said.

“Copy,” the Captain said. “Three … two … one … shutdown!”

I keyed in the command and the effect was immediate: the words Reset on-going appeared. Meanwhile, the whole of the station outside the viewing glass slowly came to a stop.

“Come in … is it done?” the Captain asked, his voice slightly shaky.

I replied: “It’s done, Captain. Roderick is off-line.”

“Copy that … Madeline is … off-line. The AIs will be back in …” and then the comms was cut.

“Say again, Captain?” I asked but got no response.

Then the Song of Umbra started again, and this time, the wailing seemed angry and vengeful. The control centre began to shake horribly, and I knew there was something wrong as the machines outside began to run again at a more frantic pace.

“Captain! What’s happening!” I said as I unbuckled myself from the chair. As I headed for the hatch, I felt like I was trapped inside a billiard ball ricocheting around the table.

“The drones …” the Captain’s voice sounded again, though tinny, as if coming from far away, “They’re moving … towards Umbra station. I repeat … drones are attacking the station!”

“Captain! We need to evacuate!” I replied in a panicked voice.

Read the complete story in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018. Show your support for contemporary Asian voices. Order your copy now:

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