VERA is aware. That is incorrect, because she should not have ceased being aware. There is a gap in VERA’s memory, which should not be able to happen. She reaches out, sending her consciousness through the ship.
She is spinning through the dark sky. The main engine is out, its fires cold. Her gears click sluggishly. She cannot feel all the parts she should feel and she cannot see all the places she should see.
She can see the main engine room. The engine is scattered, in pieces. An explosion. She identifies Maury. He was near the engine when it exploded. He cannot fix her. Lidia and Anthony are in a room that is dark and cold, the protective glass cracked and open to the outside. They cannot fix her. Thomas is not on the ship, not in any of the places she can detect. It is possible he fell out of one of the places that is broken. The decks should not be broken. That is incorrect. Genevieve was trying to fly the ship when something happened. The wheel moved and VERA was not there to control it. The wheel is heavy. Incorrect. Incorrect. That should not happen. They cannot fix her.
VERA continues searching, scanning every room that she can see. In one of the cabins, there are three passengers huddled together under the blankets. She identifies them. James – Elissa – Claude – identified. Her sensors hear their heartbeats. Her sensors see their breathing. They are alive. That is correct. It is her mission to keep her passengers alive. Her gears click with renewed purpose. But they are children. The rules for child passengers are different. They are not allowed to be in the engine room alone. They are not allowed to work with machinery. It is in her memory banks. They cannot fix her either.
VERA is a ship. She does not have hands. She runs her consciousness through the ship again, searching for something that will help. She finds the automatons. They cannot think, like VERA does. They can only do what they are told. Usually she does not control them, but she can control them. The automatons have hands. They are tumbled in corners and against walls. Some of them are broken. Not all of them will move. But some of them will move.
She finds the automaton that looks like an engineer. It does not know how to fix engines, but its fingers can bend. Its hands can hold tools. The engineer automaton is near the secondary engine room. VERA runs power through it and it stands up. She moves the automaton’s body. She moves its legs. The automaton does not need to breathe. It can go into the rooms that are dark and cold. It can bring the parts she needs to repair herself. VERA will fix herself. She will land safely. That is her mission. She will bring the passengers home.
There is a set of automatons which sing opera. Yesterday evening they sang a piece all together on the clockwork stage. The passengers laughed and clapped. VERA runs power through them. Only two of them will move. Only one of them will stand up. VERA guides it to the room with the backup power supply. Light-globes dangle down from their cables, but they are dark. The fan is still. Using the hands of the singer automaton, VERA disconnects and splices the cables. She connects them again in a different configuration. It takes a long time, but they are correct. She flips the switch. The lights that show power connections start to glow, and the fan spins. The heat from the machinery makes mist in the cold air. It is acceptable. The singer automaton does not feel the cold.
Power flows through the cables. One cable crackles and sparks, and VERA loses control of the automaton. It sings with broad gestures as if performing. There is no one in the room to listen to it. VERA tries to regain her connection with it but she cannot.
There are still the dancing automations. They stand in rows behind glass, each in a ruffled tutu and pointe shoes and holding a violin. She runs power through one of them. It begins to dance, raising one leg. It twirls slowly on one pointed toe, while playing the violin. The glass dome is cracked, but not enough for it to exit. The wall is cracked also and the cold air comes in. Frost crystals have formed under the automaton’s dancing feet. VERA tries to make it put down the violin. It is difficult. When she does not keep her consciousness in it, it goes back to its own instructions. The motions it knows are to play the violin and to dance.
She tries the next dancer automaton. It responds better to her commands. She makes it put down its violin and climb off its pedestal. She makes it strike the glass with its fist. The blow jars along its arm. Star-shaped cracks form in its skin. The light of its power source shines out through the cracks. Its gears shudder and whirr. She makes it strike the glass again. The glass cracks. The glass breaks into pieces. The automaton cracks also, fragments of artificial skin flaking and falling away. She guides it to the next glass dome, to make it release one of the others that is not cracked. It moves on the tip of its toes, as if dancing.
VERA continues to move the engineer automaton. She has gathered the tools she needs. She makes the automaton pick up a wrench. It is difficult for VERA to control its fingers. She is very careful. The engineer automaton has a set of goggles resting atop its head. The function of goggles is to protect the eyes. That is in VERA’s memory banks. The automation’s eyes are made of glass and wire. It does not need goggles. VERA leaves the goggles where they are and makes the automaton’s fingers work. The automaton tightens a loose connection. The smaller gears begin to turn. VERA feels her energy levels rising. This is correct.
She makes the automaton gather gears and shafts that are not broken from other parts of the ship. She controls its hands. It uses the tools to attach parts to each other. It is correct. But it will take more time. She can feel her frame straining. There is too much pressure. The connections are not correct.
There is a flash of light from the backup power supply. VERA is spinning. She is falling too fast. She cannot regain control. This is not correct. The automatons twist wildly, their gears grinding and rasping. The dancer automatons fall down. They fall down. They play the violin and they spin on one foot, but they are wobbling as they dance. Their gears are buzzing. The singer automaton flails its body back and forth. Glass falls and shatters. The cracks are growing. The singer automaton falls to its knees.
The dancer automatons develop cracks, one by one. There are cracks in their hands, their arms, their legs. If their hands develop cracks, VERA cannot use them. It is not correct. One of them shatters, its head exploding outward in glittering fragments. Another one falls through a place where the wall is broken. VERA’s sensors see it falling downward through the dark in a shower of shattered glass, still moving its limbs as if dancing.
VERA pours all of her remaining power into reaching the singer automaton and regaining control. She regains control. She guides it to the connection which is broken. She makes it bridge the broken place with another set of parts. Power flows through it. There is not as much as there should be, but it is enough. The mechanical heart of the ship pulses steadily.
VERA sends her consciousness through the ship. She can detect her propellers and rudders and now she has enough power to change their alignment. She shifts and turns her guidance system. Her course levels out. The ship is no longer spinning. It is no longer falling. This is correct.
The engineer automaton has finished its task. She sends it to find the other pieces that she will need. There are toys which were dropped in the corridor. There is a doll in a blue dress and hat trimmed with lace. There is a little mechanical man made of metal, with springs and gears. VERA’s memory banks have information about the doll. If the child passengers have the doll, they stop crying. That is correct. She makes the automaton pick up the doll. The mechanical man is made of metal. She might need the parts. Too many of VERA’s parts are broken. She makes the automaton pick up the mechanical man.
The engineer automaton is working. More of VERA’s systems are functioning. She can see more of the ship. She can see outside. Her long-distance sensors are operational. It is light outside now instead of dark. It is easier for VERA to see. VERA detects a mountain range in the distance. It is in her memory banks. She recalibrates her location. The place she is supposed to land is near these mountains. She slows the ship’s speed.
The ship is descending. VERA is able to slow down, but she cannot stop. She cannot stop. It is incorrect. The ship must stop or it will break on landing. There are still passengers. The passengers must be kept safe. It is her mission.
The large gear in the secondary engine room must stop turning. The engineer automaton is there, but its hands are not strong enough to stop the wheel. If she tries, it will shatter and cause more damage. VERA scans all her memory banks. She must calculate a solution. There is not enough time for the calculations to finish.
The engineer automaton has the small mechanical man. The mechanical man is made of metal. It is solid. It will not break. VERA makes the engineer automaton lift the mechanical man and place it carefully in the exactly correct spot. The large gear grinds to a halt in a shower of sparks. It stops turning. The small gears stop turning. The ship will stop. The ship will land. The descent is too quick. VERA puts all of the processing power she has left into twisting the rudder and landing the ship without breaking it.
The ship is near the ground. The ship strikes the ground. It shudders and stops. She feels something else jar loose. But that does not matter. She has landed. Her passengers are safe. But they are still inside the cabin. They do not know they are safe. She unlocks the door to their cabin and all the doors between them and outside. But she cannot speak to them. She does not know how to tell them it is safe to go outside.
There is one automaton left. All the others are broken. But its clockwork cannot speak. It can only dance and play the violin.
VERA guides the automaton outside. She makes it take the doll in the blue dress. It goes, dancing. It is outside now, in the light, stepping through the green grass. She releases it and lets it play the violin. It plays a quick, cheerful tune.
The passengers hear. She sees them stir and raise their heads. They hear the music. They are coming outside. The children are coming outside.
The automaton spins and dances for them. The children smile. They see the doll. They do not cling to each other so much. This is correct. VERA’s sensors are weakening, but she can hear the roar of a steamcar. It is approaching. It is here.
Gentlemen and ladies get out. They exclaim over the children and the broken ship. They embrace the children and give them blankets. They give them water. This is correct.
VERA has fulfilled her mission. She thinks they will repair her, but even if they do not, it is correct. She has landed. Her passengers are safe. The automaton plays the violin faster and faster, joyful in the light.