Horizon: Rebuilt Chapter 2

Time slowed almost to a standstill, the drops of blood streaming out of Horizon’s stomach floated idly in the air. The raccoon’s mind raced as she frantically queried every status sensor she could find on the drone carrier, hearing naught for a painful eternity.

Slowly, the queries returned. The carrier’s autopilot had kicked in when the cockpit was breached, holding the aircraft in a holding pattern over the rig and locking the manual controls until the pilot switched them back on. In the cockpit camera’s view Bill’s head leaned to the side, the same spar that punctured Horizon’s abdomen jutted from the tern’s chest. Mercifully his suit’s biofeedback sensors indicated that he still had a heartbeat, but he was fading fast, likely in shock. “Bill!” Horizon shouted, to her own ears it sounded oddly low and elongated.

The carrier’s bodily integrity sensors fed information directly into her augmented brain, showing a diagram of the craft with orange areas where shrapnel and debris had struck and red where they’d broken through the skin. There was a leak in one of the fuel cells, she isolated it before the other cells could drain out through it, and there was a large hole in the cockpit and the pilot’s seat, with a smaller hole in the copilot’s seat behind it of course, but otherwise the craft was still flight worthy.

“Wow, we’re in trouble aren’t we?” Horizon blinked, it looked like the red panda avatar she’d created in the simulation was crouched, a cocky smirk on her face, in front of her. The fact that there was clearly no room for another person between her body and the pilot’s seat in front of her didn’t matter.

“What are you doing here?” Horizon asked the entity mentally. She noticed her blood splatters continuing to fall slowly while the panda’s whiskers twitched at normal speed, that meant that “Samantha” was running on the same mental time dilation as her own thoughts. Another surprise from her implants.

Sam glanced over her shoulder at the dying avian behind her, “you need my help. Badly,” she gestured towards the ethane rig still burning below them. “You can’t fly both the carrier and the drones at once.”

“They have autopilots,” Horizon retorted. She knew that the basic AI installed in the drones and the carrier was less capable than the Fedtech AI that the Resolution had installed in her head, but she trusted them more. With good reason.

Sam scoffed, “which one are you going to leave to the dumb bots? The drones carrying those poor little survivors to safety?” Horizon’s vision momentarily zoomed in on a drone stumbling through the air with a survivor dangling from its underchassis. “Or perhaps the carrier transporting our own carcass?” She saw the jagged spar of metal sticking out of the front of the cockpit, red with rust, or blood.

Horizon attempted to shake her head, but the flesh could only move so fast in her slowed-down perception. “Stop messing with me!” she telepathically shouted. “I can do this by myself!”

“Fine,” the red panda vanished without a trace. The blood droplets spewed into the air accelerated down towards her body, splattering her already red jumpsuit with dark stains. Her head snapped to the side and she heard a low moan coming from the front of the cockpit.

“Bill!” Horizon shouted again. “Can you hear me?”

The bird coughed, spewing blood over the windshield. “Yeah Zoe, I don’t think I’m going to make it. How’re you doing?”

Horizon looked down at the spar in her belly, she knew that the leukosynth microbots in her blood had already stopped the bleeding and would repair the wound within minutes of the obstruction’s removal. “I’ll live,” she said simply. “Any chance you can fly for a bit longer?”

“Hah!” a small bit of more blood hit the windshield. “I don’t think so. You can fly through that thing in your head though?”

“Yes,” Horizon admitted. “But I can’t fly the drones and us at the same time!”

“Then save yourself,” Horizon was shocked at the bird’s words. “Leave the drones on autopilot, they’ll save who they can and we’ll print more after the mission.”

“But, they can’t…” Horizon trailed off as she mentally grabbed at a drone that was straying too close to a tumbling debris pile.

“There’ll be more people who need saving,” Bill explained. “And who will rescue them if you’re not there?”

Acoustic sensors picked up a series of loud pops within the derrick just below them as an ethane pocket heated to the point of ignition. Horizon took control of the carrier and lurched them to the side just in time to avoid the fireball and debris cloud that jetted up from the explosion. One drone, en route to picking up its next passenger, was not so lucky.

“You can have it all you know?” Horizon looked around, but she couldn’t see Sam anywhere in the cockpit, just heard her voice.

Horizon sighed, thinking about what she could do. She could let half a dozen people die now, or possibly die herself and be unable to save even more people later, or let a mysterious program with ulterior motives run rampant in her brain? She groaned and raised her voice, “hey Bill?”

The arctic tern was silent. “I have a Fedtech AI in my implants, it might be able to pilot both the carrier and the drones.” Still, no response. She checked the readout on his biosensors again.

His brain activity was muted, below the threshold for consciousness. Horizon could have sworn she felt Sam’s virtual breath on her shoulder as she considered what she had to do. “Alright, save those people.”

“As you command.” The raccoon felt her grasp of the drones slip away, but she maintained awareness of them in the back of her mind as they flitted around the rig. Horizon focused on piloting the carrier around the next explosion. Her brain absorbed the data from the drones’ sensors and she instinctively avoided the buildup of flammable gasses as they reached a critical mass and exploded.

She detected a heat signature rising under the primary landing pad, as she was drifting away she registered that there were half a dozen people running across the pad towards a transport that was coming in for a landing. “Get out of there!” she shouted, but it was too late.

A fireball erupted from the deckplates of the landing pad, enveloping at least one person and knocking the rest over. A large chunk of flying debris clipped the transport’s forward port engine, sending it spinning out of control. Horizon mentally lunged for the transport, she felt the security protocols melt away before her software, and she found the autopilot. With a mental twitch she activated the transport’s auto-stabilizing application. Within milliseconds power diverted to the remaining three engines and the craft’s spin slowed. But less than five seconds after the autopilot was engaged it was disabled again and the craft began to swerve even more erratically. Horizon realized that the pilot was trying to reassert control, and failing horribly.

Horizon turned the autopilot back on, and the transport lurched hazardously. She sent a quick voice transmission to the pilot before they could disable it again, “transport pilot, please let your autopilot stabilize you.”

The pilot took control again and the transport swayed even more, “carrier, that’ll take too long. Those people who fell into the water have minutes if they’re lucky.”

Horizon sighed, “if you don’t let the autopilot stabilize you you’ll crash. And then you won’t be able to rescue anyone. I can divert my drones over to lift them up.” She was painfully aware of the echo in her words.

There was a short pause, then the transport’s autopilot engaged again. “Alright,” the pilot conceded.

Horizon sent Sam a telepathic command to send every drone not currently carrying something down to the water below the landing pad. Three drones immediately dove for the bobbing heads of survivors fighting hypothermia, the fourth was busy depositing a passenger at the auxiliary landing pad. The drones dropped harnesses with inflatable floats next to the survivors, when they grabbed at the smart harnesses they wrapped themselves around the survivors’ torsos and the tow cables carefully pulled them up.

Meanwhile, the damaged transport managed to stabilize itself, slowing its spin to a halt and hovering in place just five meters above the waves. “You should tell them to open their hatch,” Sam’s voice advised.

“What?” Horizon checked the flight path of the drones the AI was piloting, and did a double-take. “Are you serious?”

“It’s the nearest place of safety,” Sam pointed out.

Horizon hit the radio again, “transport open your passenger hatches and prepare to receive wounded.”

“Are you serious?” the pilot replied, echoing Horizon’s sentiment.

“At least we get to be useful here,” another voice chimed in. Horizon spotted a large figure sliding open the door on the side of the transport through the sensors of the nearest drone.

The drone flew up to the open door and another figure grabbed the survivor dangling from its towline. As soon as the paramedic had hold of the survivor the drone released its passenger, almost throwing the medic off balance, but they managed to grab hold of a safety strap in time. Thus relieved, the drone swiftly flew off.

The second drone’s passenger couldn’t hold still, they squirmed and writhed in their harness. As they flew towards the transport their leg swung into the path of a jet, burning them and sending them into shock. The paramedic who retrieved them scowled at the drone, as if blaming it.

“That’s why we don’t load passengers mid-air,” Horizon scolded her AI.

Sam made a snorting sound. “It’s not my fault they jumped into the backblast.” A section of Horizon’s HUD zoomed in on a broken segment of the landing pad that was sloped towards the water. A survivor was clinging desperately to the upper edge, a drone hovering next to them. “What would you like to do about this one?”

Horizon examined the survivor in her HUD. “What’s the problem here?”

A schematic of the smart harness attempting to wrap around the survivor was added to Horizon’s HUD. “I can’t get it to secure him, he’s clinging too tightly to the floor.”

Horizon thought for a moment, then turned her attention towards the scout drone, which was in a holding position high above the rig. “The scout has some basic tools and enough lifting power that it should be able to lift him enough to get the harness under. Use it.”

The scout drone swooped down towards the survivor clinging to the pad. On the way down its sensors spotted another gas pocket heating up. “We need to hurry! There’s going to be another explosion!” she shouted over the radio.

The drones dropped the last of the survivors from the water into the transport and the scout drone stopped just above the hand of the survivor on the pad. A multitool extended from the scout’s manipulator and touched a finger.

In a spray of red the finger exploded. The survivor screamed loudly but held his death grip on the landing pad until his other fingers were also severed. Once all his fingers were cut off he slid down the landing pad, leaving a trail of blood. As soon as he slid off the far end of the pad the waiting smart harness wrapped around him.

“What the Hel Sam?!” Horizon berated the AI as she watched the drone with the maimed survivor fly towards the transport. “Transport, you’re going to need to stop a lot of bleeding on this next one.”

“Explosion in three…” Sam started counting down. “Two… one…”

A fireball rose from the ethane rig, the surviving transports and the carrier swept away just before the flames and debris hit them. The drone chucked the bleeding survivor into the hatch of the transport, and then sank towards the waters below, batteries depleted.

“He’ll live,” Samantha finally replied to Horizon’s rhetorical question. “He might need new fingers, but he’ll live.” Below them, the burnt out superstructure of the rig began to collapse in on itself. “There’s nothing more we can do now, we should go.”

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