Shaw tried to ignore the steady plipping noise behind her and did her best to keep the Engineer ship headed in the right direction. It had at first seemed self-explanatory, piloting the ship. Her heart lightened when the ship’s schematics had lit up with the eerie ghosts of the previous pilots in their chitin armor, and showed her how easy the system on board worked.
There’s the planet, spinning on it’s own specific tendril, and there’s us, on our doomed rock slamming around the solar system where all of this started.
Point A, and Point B.
Origin and Destination.
Her heart lurched when a faulty wire behind her sparked and fizzed in protest as she put on a little bit more speed trying to avoid a mapped obstacle. Her heart steadied after a second of easy flying under her tentative fingers.
There were extenuating circumstances to her own exodus, though, she continued in her head. She was pretty sure that the Engineers had not wanted, nor expected, somebody like her to ever end up flying one of their military grade interstellar ships. She avoided another blip on the diagram distractedly, and hastily. Somebody that they had decided came from a series of well planned mistakes and regretted actions, apparently deserving of something terrible was probably not on the roster for welcomed guest and collaborator.
The same lurch in her gut from earlier came back in a bigger way when David made a noncommittal noise behind her, from his sentry on the side of the Engineer console. The reminder of another presence was what startled her out of her dazed reverie.
“What is it, David?” She asked in a strained voice.
David’s head was facing to the starboard side of the ship, as it had been for the past week or so, and she couldn’t see his face when she turned away from the dusty console to glance somewhat bitterly in his direction. He made the noise again, a slight ticking of his tongue against the roof of his mouth, conveying slight disapproval.
“There’s nothing wrong, Doctor Shaw, thank you for asking. However, I feel that the past four ship directives could have been made with much less of a waiting margin.” She felt something tic in her left hand as she rubbed the front of her nose with her right. Her body sagged with the familiarity of justifying her decisions.
“Well, David. I would let you drive in a heartbeat if I could. The only problem is the one that at this current time, is the most obvious.”
David blinked at the wall for a second before replying. “Is it because don’t have a piloting license?”
Shaw stared at the side of his head again, where the bleached parts of his hair had already started giving way to an ashy and pale brown. She was thrown for a second by the thought of his hair growing without the accompanying body, and then by the thought that David had just made a joke.
“David, I would be delighted with your display of humor if not for the present situation.”
“My apologies. Timing has never been my strong suit, Dr. Shaw.”
She didn’t answer, because the dancing particles of light had already made a small noise to indicate that she had another hurdle to get across. While they had been speaking she hadn’t noticed the steady drips of David’s milky white blood on the dusty floor, and she hadn’t noticed the aches from the inside of her body. They were back now, and more noticeably than that, so was the silence that had descended between them in the bowels of their flying crypt.
After the motes of glowing dust paused for a period, Shaw took the blank space on the map at face value and sat down for a bit, feeling her body’s aches and trembles under the thin veil of morphine. She tried to ignore the cramping pain in her stomach from both her stapled womb and also the clawing hunger that had developed in the past couple of hours.
It had been too long since she had eaten. Ever since they first got into the bridge, actually, when she had thrown the empty polyfiber bag across the corridor outside of the room and eaten the last few chunks of dehydrated plums. It had seemed to be months ago, but couldn’t have been more than days.
Time had passed covertly in the silent whir of machinery powering the ship, and at times she had moments of panic, thinking David had died and left her truly alone, or the ship wasn’t working anymore and she was running out of oxygen, or that she had died and this was some form of purgatory for the aborted mothers of creationist children, a purgatory where you were forced to run from the things you had abandoned and their fathers and gods all strived to end your life and your purity and your sense of self and
David hadn’t spoken sharply, but her head bumped against the corner of the terminal when she jerked it up from the place it had been starting to rest on the arm of her chair. She made a gasping noise and clutched at her brow before hurriedly stumbling to her feet.
“Doctor Shaw, I would hate to be a bother, but if you would turn my head slightly I could watch what you were doing and perhaps be of some assistance.”
There was an echo to the plipping noise from the corner of his white-coated lips as her own blood dripped thickly from her forehead. She stared at the contrast of the ashy dust and her bright blood as David repeated something again for her benefit, his voice distant.
“-aw. It would benefit both of us if you would take advantage of my presence and knowledge to he-“
She recovered slightly, slowly frowning at him and thinking about her actions. Why had she placed him like that in the first place? In her moment of pain-induced clarity, all of her decisions in the past month now seemed stupid in hindsight, completely unlike her characteristic foresight and planning. Mistakes had been made. Hiking across all of the terrain she had, finding food in some of the fungus that grew around the area, and the increasing doses of morphine she had been giving herself. Those decisions could have killed her, all of them. There were more. Her lack of oxygen, and medical supplies, the absence of rations in her pack, and her decision to start flying the ship before making sure there weren’t any Engineer survivors in the facility.
Granted, she hadn’t been thinking straight when she’d first boarded the ship. The exhaustion from her hike across the moon’s surface had taken its toll on her already abused body, and she may have been erring on the side of delirious by the time her feet had made it safely inside of the Engineer’s closest vessel. But David was the only semblance of intelligent company or assistance she was going to have for a while, and her dazed self had shoved him in the corner, as if forcing herself to acknowledge him as some kind of tool, or ornament. She hadn’t spoken to him during the trip, and he hadn’t said anything. What did that say about her? That she had to force herself to respond politely to him, even now, when it was impossible for him to even have the motivation to antagonize her? That she was keeping him in the farthest corner of the bridge? And that he had to ask to be of assistance to her in her weakened state? What kind of attitude was she projecting onto an emotionless being?
She shuffled over to him and braced herself internally before reaching out with one hand and grasping the back of his slick head. He didn’t react except to inhale sharply, reminding her that he didn’t even have to breathe in the first place.
Elizabeth lifted him as she would have a basketball; the shape was unwieldy, and made all the more cumbersome by the need for gentleness along with a grasp on its full size.
“Nevermind about the piloting for now. I’m going to find a place to sleep.”
“Are you feeling well, Doctor?” David inquired, sounding sincere.
Her eyes didn’t narrow in suspicion, and she didn’t snap her answer at all. “No, David, it’s- I’m fine. It’s okay to stop piloting now, correct? The sensors don’t seem to detect any other-“
“Yes, Doctor Shaw. The next 6 hours should be relatively clear sailing, give or take 20 minutes.” The answer from the android came before she’d finished asking, and her mouth was left slightly open around her question before she hastily asked her next one.
“Did the ship say that? You- you read it in the diagram?”
David’s head blinked passively at the wall where he was pointed, and she turned his head so he could look at her.
“I’ll just take you with me over here. I was going to go find somewhere to sleep here in the bridge. We need to be able to listen in case we come up on something, and you can keep watch for longer than I can, correct?” Her words did not slur, she was proud to say, even as her vision did its best to.
“My ability to stay awake far exceeds yours, yes. I do not need-“
“Yes, yes, I understand David. Just. Just keep watch and make sure I get up.”
“Of course, Doctor Shaw.”
Shaw’s ability to stay up late thinking about her past mistakes proved weaker than the tired state of her body, and she fell asleep soon after settling into a cleaner corner of the bridge room. David had taken up his eerie vigil, supposedly listening closely for any sign of an alert from the ship. He would probably be able to tell what it meant better than she could, and again, she wondered about her own sense of distrust towards him. Not for very long, though. Her head dipped toward her chest as soon as she settled, and she didn’t have to try very hard to ignore the way that David’s eyes stared blankly into the air between them as he listened.
His body was still burned. Just like it had been when she’d last seen him, but this time, his face wasn’t repentant, it wasn’t horrified. His face was placid, and devoid of any of the care she usually saw in his gentle eyes. He was pushing himself upright in the metallic dirt and soil, writhing in his effort to bring himself higher, to drag himself slightly toward her as she stared raptly and mutely. The suit was torn, and his helmet was destroyed with opaque white cracks across the front of it. His arms. His legs. They weren’t bending the right way, they were wrong. She took a step backwards, but couldn’t help herself from leaning towards him, like a subterranean animal toward fire and heat. There was that plipping noise again, but this time the pure white was a dark, tarry black, and it dripped from his mouth, and it dripped from his eyes, and it dripped from her womb, and he opened his mouth just as she opened hers and
She blinked hard, once, and heaved herself upright a bit, spine and knees creaking. “What is it David?” Her voice came out sharper, “David?”
Her vision disappeared in the flood of light motes that now flooded the cavern. She jerked up from her position, and hurried over to the console clumsily, picking David up on the way, and entirely ignoring her finger’s position on the tacky fluid of the exposed part of his vertebrae. “What’s happening to it?” She placed him a little roughly down on the arm of the arm of the pilot’s chair, hefting herself up into it even as the lights around grew brighter and more agitated.
“It appears that we’ve found what you’ve been looking for.”
She stared at the lights, uncomprehending. “What I’ve been…”
The motes started to cohere into a recognizable shape, and the looming horizon became apparent even as she worked out her goals all over again.
“David.” her voice hitched slightly. “Is that the planet? It’s so close. Why didn’t you give me any warning?” Elizabeth gripped the sides of her seat, eyes wide and lips thinned.
“Doctor Shaw, it is a planet. However, if you are inferring that it be the Engineer home world, then yes, the chances of this terrestrial body being the one we are looking for are in fact, very high.” He paused. “I did not warn you because there were no difficulties in landing or in transit onboard.”
Shaw’s mind turned over several quick and successive theories. That had been easy. And fast. She had been expecting to be forced into one the occupied stasis pods in order to survive the trip to the planet, but apparently the search was over, after only a week or two of flying. Her goal when she reached her destination had been certain in her mind, but half-done at best. She knew what she had wanted. She had wanted answers. How she was going to get them, and what they would be, she really hadn’t the first idea, but usually when she leaped into a project like this, determination won out, and that’s what she had been mistakenly relying on in her deluded state of mind.
“Yes. Okay. Thank you, David.”
Now that she was almost there? Her hands were trembling minutely, and her breath came in light heaves, as the line where earth met sky grew larger in the field of vision allowed in the diagram.
What had she been planning on doing?
Elizabeth’s trembling grew stronger as she started looking for a different set of controls, a new route around the planet, a self destruct button, anything. Her head darted back and forth and she ran her hands gently but frantically over different protrusions, hoping one would give way, turn the ship around, take her home, or just end it all and kill her.
“Doctor Shaw!” David’s voice cut through the ringing in her ears and her heavy breathing, and she whirled to face him. The hair clinging to her face wetly obscured her left eye and she swiped at it.
“Doctor Shaw, please calm yourself. The landing will take care of itself. I’m positive after reading some of the calibrations on the wall over he-“
“David, I don’t want to land!” Elizabeth almost wailed. She turned away from him again, still speaking hysterically, “What were we planning on doing, David?! Finding some of these, these, people, and asking nicely why they tried to erase all of us? Were we going to just take this ship back to Earth when we were done getting our ‘answers’, and take all of the corpses of their people with us?”
She couldn’t find anything that looked to be a manual set of controls, and now the navigation system wouldn’t even respond to her shaky touch. It had locked, presumably for the landing sequence. The horizon wasn’t discernable, anymore; the land had filled the entire space of the projected area with a glowing haze of white. Her stomach dropped as she realized that their landing was imminent.
“I thought this was what you wanted, Doctor?” His voice sounded politely inquisitive, and at that moment, she hated it.
“I don’t know what I want. I just. I don’t know.” Her eyes shut as the felt the thrum of the ion thrusters kick in. The overhead wiring hummed as unseen panels slid back to slow their descent from the outside.
“I didn’t expect to live. I didn’t expect to make it this far.” She heaved out a shaky breath and wiped her eyes, even though they were dry. “I didn’t expect to live long enough to actually be here. I wanted to find answers, because it was the only thing-“ she swallowed thickly, “I wanted to find answers. But I don’t want to die from one of those- those things, either. I don’t want to be killed by an Engineer, or one of those things.”
Elizabeth leaned down and rested her head on her knees as the ship shuddered around her, punching through the unseen atmosphere that wrapped around what she now assumed to be another one of the planet’s satellites. Possibly a moon; or a planet in some binary orbital system.
“Your lack of foresight is astounding, Elizabeth.” Her head shot up at the remark. “You aimed this ship toward our destination, Doctor. Not even with my assistance.” There was a noted absence of a bitter tone. “You travelled approximately 67 miles across the surface of a hostile planet to reach the ship to take you here, dragging a 15 pound piece of android and the scarce supplies you thought to bring.” There was that sound again, and the very fiber of her being thrummed with resentment at it, the ticking of his tongue as he struck the roof of his mouth with it, somehow conveying so much with the tiniest noise and no facial expression at all. “It seems that you should be a little more accepting of a fate so self inflicted. After all, you did start this expedition in order to, ah, ‘meet your maker,’ as certain members of your crew said so aptly.” He smiled mildly in the light of the HUD, glowing ethereally. “What changed so much that your goals are now different? To earn the very knowledge that killed Charles, and the rest of your expedition in the search. No, I believe you are coming upon a shift in motivation that needs to be acknowledged, nothing more.”
She blinked from her curled position on the seat of the pilot’s chair. Her brain was trying to catch up with itself, and she was just so tired. Somehow, David had cut through all of her defenses, all of her talking, and her hysteria. He’d acknowledged every facet of her flawed personality and thinking. Somehow he knew, and worse off, he didn’t even care. His address and dismissal of her hardly acknowledged faults were threatening the tenuous hold she had on her composure. Her single minded dedication that had doomed them in the first place, her independence, and of course her lack of foresight. It didn’t matter to him. She was human. She made mistakes, and he didn’t. It never mattered what she or any of the other members of their crew did, he would always be better, and feel superior, because he wasn’t what killed them. They killed themselves. When the tar changed, when it took on that form, it only did so because of what humanity was.
David, somehow, was never infected with anything. He never suffered until directly at the hands of Peter Weyland and his encounter with the final slumbering Engineer. David had always been free from human error until forcefully subjected to it, and didn’t that somehow make him more like the creatures and their slop than like a Human? He had their face, but so could the creatures. The visage they took didn’t matter, just their prey, if her suspicions were correct on their origin and function. In her area of study, her suspicions usually ended up as fact.
“A change in motivation? Everything’s changed David, none of what I said before matters anymore, don’t you get it?”
“It seems to me that the only thing you’ve lost is some assistance. Why would your thirst for answers have changed if you haven’t? You’re still Doctor Shaw, and from what you led me to believe, Truth was the only thing that made this whole endeavor worth the trip, whether you all paid a price or not.”
The fact that his opinion was expressed objectively confirmed her suspicion that David had never really associated himself with the people aboard the Prometheus at all. Elizabeth’s breathing had slowed while she was listening to him, and the ship had stopped shuddering painfully in her distraction. They were on the final descent through the atmosphere of her new planet.
“David. I’m going to find answers, but things have changed. You don’t have the… capacity to understand, but my own life is at more of a risk than it was before. It’s basic really. There’s no use for truth if you die knowing it.” Elizabeth gave up trying to explain to him. She got up and tried not to shudder when she picked up his head from the surface of the machinery.
“Now shut up and tell me where the airlock on this shit hole is.”