Lonely Robot: Please Come Home; Chapter 1, Airlock


Conway stared at the flickering console in utter disbelief. Streams of data shimmered across his visor faster than he could absorb. The breach alarm was sounding, that much was clear. Something or someone was aboard the Titan. As fast as the alarm had sounded, Temple had raced from his seat to the rear of the Titan and down the airlock companionway. He paused at the base of the ladder as an ominous dull throb sounded through the bulkhead. The only thing throwing light on the airlock hatch below was the slowly flashing red alert lamp. The dull thump sounded again, echoing up the length of the companionway. All of a sudden Conway’s voice crackled through the comms link. “Temple, we have less than four minutes before the anti-grav drive fails and we begin our descent, whatever you do do it bloody fast or I’m going to purge the airlock!!”. Temple remained silent, staring at the white oblong hatch below. He carefully place his helmet on and closed the seal. His heart was in his mouth and his breathing fast and shallow. He reached up to the barely illuminated interface and carefully entered the escape code.

The companionway hatch thudded shut in the distance above him and the airlock hatch slowly creaked beneath him. He straddled the hatch as it slid clear beneath his feet, dust blowing up from the darkness beneath. The shimmering red alert caught a glimmer of what lay beneath in the airlock portal. Temple fumbled to find the thin metal worklight tethered to his suit, his hands shaking with fear. He switched it on and cautiously pointed it downwards. There beneath him standing on the exit portal itself was something that made him gasp in horror. A domed glass helmet covering a spinning gyro. A shiny metal torso, bulky and awkward. Cupped red pincers ended segmented bulbous arms. Whatever this was, it was clumsy and condemned to history. Aside from the spinning tortion of the gyro, it remained motionless. What seemed like forever was probably no more than moments, Temple silently observing this mechanical relic. It was like something he had seen in pictures as a child. An AUTOMATON! But what was it doing here in airlock B aboard deep space reconnaisance vessel Titan?? Temple didn’t have time to ponder any further as the comms link gave rude awakening. “Temple, times up, return to bridge immediately. Repeat, return to bridge IMMEDIATELY”.

Something in this alert caused the dark hulking metal mass to grind into life. With little grace it’s left arm shot to horizontal and its pincers started spinning in a clockwise direction. Suddenly it’s whole arm extended forward and clumsily latched onto the airlock purge valve lever. Then a deep booming metallic husk of a voice ushered forth a single word “RO-BOT”. With that the lever was wrenched from its housing and the terrible hissing of depressurisation began. Temple panicked. His suit wasn’t prepped for EVA and far from close to full pressure. His tugged his helmet release catch and hoisted it over his head, sending it tumbling straight into the airlock below. As fast as he could manage he clambered up the companionway ladder back towards the bridge. At the top of the ladder he met with terror, the hatch wouldn’t open. He violently thumped on the release but it lay there dormant. He punched on the base of the hatch somehow hoping that Conway might somehow hear. “I CAN’T BREATHE……I CAN’T BREATHE”. The vessel was starting to shake now, the anti-grav drive close to breaking point. He could hear Conway on the other side of the hatch now, rapidly pumping the manual release lever. Seconds later, the hatch opened and bridge cabin pressure dropped violently, the air rushing past Temples ears. Conway violently hoisted him through the hatch and slammed the hatch door closed, punching the emergency pressure switch in a single move.

Back at the console, Temple hurriedly tapped in the trajectory coordinates. On the event horizon scanner, wormhole C-105 loomed large, a giant portal into the unknown. There wasn’t time to consider the uninvited guest that lay dormant in the airlock. Time. What use was time out here Temple wondered. Time was now just an anachronism. A bitter irony. A relative concept invented by humans to enforce social structure. Conway decommissioned the anti grave drive and the Titan fell eerily silent. The gloomy cabin ceased vibrating and only the half light of the console illuminated the two men. The little craft gave up the fight against the giant force that lay ahead and instead began arcing towards it with increasing velocity. Like a tiny spider being sucked into a giant cosmic plughole Titan span, her rear thrusters occasionally firing in a pathetic bid to adjust whatever doomed inevitability lay ahead. Temple fell into a trance as the craft entered into it’s cosmic carousel.

Images from his past danced in front of his eyes then became stretched and elongated in the corridors of his mind. An ethereal voice wailed a lament to a soundscape his own mind was conjuring. Vast cathedrals of light, spinning in infinity engulfed his mind. Faster and faster the process unravelled. the images were now merely flickers, too brief to recognise. Round and round they spun into the void, the pictures now just blipverts at sickenening speed. Then, with no warning whatsoever fell total darkness and utter silence. Was he in a dream Temple wondered. At least if he was, the assault on his subconscious had ended. The blackness and silence hung around him like dread itself. Then an eery noise faded slowly around his head. It sounded at first like the cries of a newborn baby but then seemed to slowly morph into the sound of a tortured animal, a terrifying pained sound which logged itself in some dark recess of his mind as that of a cat. Louder and louder it got, more horrific and piercing than Temple could possible endure. Then, as if some grand architect was just playing out the scene on some tiny anthill and grew suddenly bored, BANG, the foot came down…..and there was nothing.