I awoke in severe soreness to the sound of the other man reentering the tent and calling out to me. He was excited and took some time to regain his breath. “Cypher worked. Their captain died. Ship log says it was heart failure. Years ago. Entire crew wiped out. Besides those we found, they lost another group deeper. Captain buckled under the stress. We’ll bring their black box home with us. I need your help to get it out.” He paused. “This shouldn’t be possible. But it’s real.”

I attempted to move but could not easily. This body was deteriorating. At its breaking point. I could not summon any power to will my body into working right. Muted, tapered, cut off from my inner core. I felt more human than I had in a long time.

“Hey. Your vitals don’t look so good. Let’s get you on the ship. Give me override for your suit.”

I remembered I outranked him. If I wanted, I could have commanded his suit to overpower him. I could force him to die without using a weapon. What was I again?

I nodded and linked my suit to his. I would walk, but not from my own will. My suit would carry me anywhere as long as it had power. They made those batteries to theoretically last for thousands of years. What was going wrong with me? My head was hot. I couldn’t feel anything except for pain.

We moved toward the ship. Into the poisonous waters. My feet dredged up soaked soils undisturbed for so long. We reached the ship’s anchor point, and he attached our suits to the pull. Up we went.

The first inner chamber had a protocol where samples were collected. The automated systems attempted to decontaminate our suits with a series of high pressure cooks of varying chemical solvents and radiations. After so many cycles, to the system’s satisfaction, we could enter the main inner compartments.

I remembered my first ship. My first crew. They had become a part of me and then…

An alarm went off on my suit. My heart had stopped. My vision faded.

I awoke what felt like immediately after laying down in the sick bay. The other man was in an air tight clean suit. He had connected a ventilator to my face. Probes stuck to my chest. Multiple other tubes flowing into my veins. One for saline solution, one for blood conditioning, one for the flow of self-replicating nanotech.

The pain was not as intense. Seditives subdued my body.

“Awake?”

I blinked and strained to nod.

“Severe levels of radiation damage. Your nerves were shot. Heart… was different, wrong. Arm was toast. As was your suit. Far more than was evident. No data records survived. All your banks had was what was in active memory, and that wasn’t much. Battery was nearly about to go critical. Lucky… to be alive. We both are.”

I couldn’t speak. The tube down my throat prevented that.

“Sleep a while longer. We can talk once the nanos are done doing their job.”

He upped the dose of narcotics dripping into my veins, and I passed again into dreamless slumber. There was nothing… except… for a voice. Quiet at first. Then louder and louder. The same phrase repeatedly. Fragmented. Corrupted. It was not the voice from my inner core, but a feminine voice from across the cosmos. I felt I knew it once long ago.

<M̴̢̨͇͍̥̭̬̭̖͍͍͍͊̄̒́̎̾̃̃̌̅̋̈̈́̄Ȧ̸̱͚͎̞͍̭̭̥́̇͂̓͗͊̍̉̄̓͂͝ͅK̵̯̠̽̔́́̽̈̎̋̿̏̑͒̿̚͝Ḛ̴̢̰͎̟̫̦͆͜͜ͅ ̵͇̹̀͊̽͘İ̴̡̡̼̳̟͚T̶̨̗̩̞̟͚̀͒́͆̊͘̚ ̴̧̧̡̙͖̟̣͉͓͍͙̌̍͜S̸͉̹͌̈̚͝Ţ̷̛͕͇͔̠̞͚̱̘͇͇͓̾̂̌̔̀̃̈́̔̕͝Ơ̸̛͓̻͈̖̫̮̩̜̬̂́̈́̿̔̓̑͆́̿͝P̴̬̥̣̤̲̿͠!̵̨͍͔̘̣̝̥̜͉̭͇̹͑̈́̽͊̑ ̸̢̼̤̦̇̈́̓̇͑͋͝͝͠M̸̡̥̼̬̩͖̣̩͓̮̾̓͒̒̂͘͝Á̸̢̼̬͕̤͙̪͠K̵̡̼̭̺̠̩͚̤̞͇̰̎͛̊͜Ȩ̵̧͇̗̜͎͙̮̮̟̙̘̥͙͑̈́̐̑́̋̃̍̿̈̉͘̚̚͝ ̷̩̲̙̺̭̩͗̓͂̈͑̈́̓̽̅͛̀̌̚ͅͅȈ̶̫̳̆̈̀̑T̶̜̺̱͓̬̓̍̄̈́͑̓̄̊̀̔̔̀̉ͅ ̸̛̯̰̆̔̆̀̒͝S̷̡͉͓̝̠̞̃̈́̇͐̋͆Ț̴̨̛̺̌̎̈́́̄̐͗͗͂̓̏̕͝O̴̢̮͉̮͉̭̻̟̼̱̓̎͘̕͜͝P̶̧̺̠̊́͗̆̐̂̾͗̿̀͗̔̈̚͠!̵̝̱͙̫̓̔̋̊͑̿̏̈́̾͂́̄̕ͅ ̵̘̭͎̫̳̮̼̓̆̅̇̀̊̕̚͝M̸͍̣̲̲̪͓̆̅͂̑̎̄Á̸͕̘͎͖̣̈́͗̄͆͋̈́͛̿͘̕͝K̵̨̡͉̱̗̙͈͔̼̠̀͑̀̍Ȩ̵͈̯̞͔̬̰̤̠̫̘͎̓̓̄͛̽̂͛̓ ̶̢̲̘̭͓͍̻̹̠̬͛̿́͆̇I̴̲̾͐̆̓̈͊͌̆͝T̵̨̡̧̛̥͎̗͖̦͕̪͚͓́̅̾͂̅̕̚ͅ ̴̨̛͍̘̺͕̞͈̘̖͙̀̉͐̒̅̕S̶̳̽̓̒̿̈́̓̄̂̿̕͠T̵̛̫̭̗̖̯̼͓̟͉͒͗̎͒̂Ơ̴̡̳̠͓͙̠͙͕̤̄̀̀͌̀̃̿́̒͗̾̂̓̕͜P̸̧̢̙͎̝͓̣̫͉̟͓̦̈̏̓́̀͜!̶̡̡̩̳͉̩͙̼͓̦͇̱̗͓̫̋̄͌͗̇͊̈́͆̕̚>

M̸̡͙̞̟̯̬̮̼̀͜ͅȁ̵͇̒̀̂̆̄͒̅̏́́͠͝k̶̜̺̤̊e̶̲̳̩̘̼͖͇͕̗͚̹̻̒̈̽̄̃̇̓̅͜ ̷̣̒̍͛̈́̉͜͝İ̶̢̢̨̲͚̮̣͇͇̥͇͎̥̓̿̄̌̃̾̒̃̄͛̃̈̍̐t̶̖̭͙̙̫̭͍̩̅̇̾́̚̕͝ͅ ̸̢̨̡͖̼̺̠̙̫̘͙̞͇̪̄͑͊͆̐̚͜Ș̶̳̞̱͇̈̽̉̋͛͌̑̈́̑͘͝ẗ̶̢̨͓͙̠̦̰̩̄͌̈̉̏̎̃͑̚ơ̸̢̨͍̼̖͉̖̰͍͇͖̯̘͒͆͌̓̎̋̂̋͠p̸̨̡͓̜͈̦̰̲̠̤͎̔͌̚͝!̸̩͔̻̬̆́̇̊̔̏̋͌̈͘͜͠͝

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