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The plaintive voice was tentative despite the clarity of the transmission.
“Hello? Can anybody hear me? Hello? My name is Lucy. I don’t know where I am. I’m stuck. Help? Anyone?”
We had heard a few transmissions from the Squishy stuck in the Radioactive waste sector on Mars. They had started out as emotionless status reports on rad and fluid levels, suit operating condition and power levels. Regular reports of no enemy contact, weather conditions and request for maintenance support.
After a while her information transmissions had descended into complete gibberish. The AI suggested to me that the radiation was interfering with whatever chemical and implant technology that made a real person into a military robot. And now this. It seemed like whatever blocks that were in place were no longer there.
“I’m really thirsty. This tube that sticks out to my mouth was giving me water but now it’s dry. I seem to be stuck in a space suit?” she continued. “Hello? I don’t know if you can hear me? My name is Lucy. Can anyone hear me?”
I sighed and keyed the microphone. “Hello Lucy, this is Stephen Morton on the Red Corporation satellite. I know you’re confused, so I will try to provide you with whatever answers I can.”
“Oh thank goodness! Yes, yes, where am I? Am I even on Earth anymore?”
Out of curiosity about how it worked I asked, “What is your last memory before waking up where you are?”
“I had to report to the credit manager’s office at my bank. There was a problem with my credit card. It was a silly thing, really. They said I was behind on payments and I’m sure it was just lost in the e-transfer and I thought that if they just looked again they would see that all this fuss was for nothing.”
“What happened then?” I asked.
“Well, let’s see. When I walked into the office there was a man in a nurse uniform in the back, which I thought was a bit odd and I shook Mr. Long’s hand, that’s the bank manager,” she rattled on, “and then I think I was drugged? I remember feeling really strange and then the nurse guy came over to me. I think that’s when I must have blacked out?” She seemed unsure of herself.
I checked to make sure the transmission was encoded and secure before I responded.
“Okay Lucy. I can’t sugar coat this. I’m very sorry, but you have been made a Squishy because you defaulted on your credit payments. You were conditioned and your memory was walled away. You were transferred to a Red Corporation satellite in orbit around Mars and have been downloaded to explore and fight on the planet. You have unfortunately wandered into a radiation zone and are currently immobilized.”
“A Squishy. Like in space dramas? I’m not a clone. This is ridiculous. You’ve got to get me out of here, right now! I know my rights! Call the emergency services!” She was now screaming.
“Listen to me Lucy.” I said calmly. “You are stuck in a combat environment suit on Mars in a radioactive dump. You are dying. There is nothing we can do to help you and no one is coming to your rescue.”
Larry the AI chimed in. “Sir, you have to replenish her water supply.” I stared at its floating tin can. “Why would I waste good water on that?” I threw a thumb in the direction of Mars.
“Because,” it answered, “Ms. Kells has ordered that every unit must be resupplied with water before they will be counted as profit. Any units you do not supply with water will be immobilized remotely and terminated. She is quoted as saying that no company may use suicide tactics in unit placement to receive profit points in the competition. Proper supply chain management is key to success, she said.”
“Also,” it continued, “only Crunchy occupying water resources and Squishy occupying any Mars terrain sector will be counted as profit making units.”
My eyes narrowed as I considered whether Larry was kidding or not.
“So we have to supply a perfectly good water ration to a Squishy that is going to melt from the inside out anyway?”
“Yes, sir.” it replied. “Or her sacrifice doesn’t count as profit points.”
Again I had to sigh. I keyed the mic. “Lucy, I’m very sorry. We can’t help you. I am having water shipped down to you so you won’t die of thirst at least. I promise you that your sacrifice and your… story will not die with you. Tell me more about yourself.”
For the next hour I listened and tried to note as many details as possible. She received her water delivery and cried when she could drink from her hose again. Eventually her sentences started to run into one another. She cried some more and called out a person’s name. The AI informed me it was her mother’s name on file.
There were long bouts of silence and then more word salad and soon there were no words at all.
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