Andromeda woke to the frantic beeping of the shuttle and the sight of smoke rising up from Cressida's exposed wires.
She stood up and walked to the control panel. The beeping died down as she slowly pulled the switch on the wall. She leaned against the wall and looked up at Cressida.
The android's head was nearly torn clean off, with only wires remaining in the place that her neck had once been. Her skin was badly burnt, but her face was as peaceful as ever, eyes closed serenely like they had been when she'd entered lockdown. Andromeda stifled a sob and stumbled to the seat, flinging open the panel on Cressida's chest.
Andromeda pressed the reanimation button with a shaky hand. Sometimes they lived through things like this. All they really needed intact was the mechanical heart.
She hadn't expected anything.
But she was the astronautics robot, and she knew how to handle situations like these. Check for survivors. Check the status of the space shuttle. Navigate her way back to Earth.
Andromeda swallowed and removed the cosmology chip from Cressida's temple, pocketing it in her suit and leaving the memory chip behind, despite the sentimental longing to keep it for herself. Instead, she turned away and squeezed her eyes shut.
Check for survivors.
Andromeda cast a quick glance down the large sleep chamber. Not all of them were as badly damaged as Cressida, but they all seemed dead.
Just to be sure, she moved down the aisle, pressing the reanimation button on each control panel.
Cressida's counterpart, Julius, who was also cosmology. She took the info chip from his temple, too, although it wasn't likely that it contained any information not found in Andromeda's chip.
Chamomile. Biology. Dead.
Her counterpart, Hugo. Biology as well. Dead.
Removing the info chips from each temple.
Twelve in all.
Eleven, actually, not counting the one in her own head.
She stowed the info chips away in her own temple so that it contained seven chips: her memchip, her astronautics info chip, and five other different info chips. There were six extras, duplicates of the ones she had, and she put those in her wrist compartment. Her lips trembled, and then she was shaking and crying, tears rolling down her cheeks, carving trails in her metallic skin, and she was going to die, I'm going to die, I'm going to die
Andromeda cried out and wiped the tears from her face. Still shaking, she lowered herself onto the chair at the control panel and quickly assessed the damage. There were minor burns on the edges of the panel, but otherwise, it seemed fine.
She ran a diagnostics scan. The shuttle was heavily damaged; it'd been strafed by asteroids in orbit, and Andromeda wondered how they could've overlooked that. Surely there was no way she'd been so boneheaded as to plan the shuttle path directly into the asteroid belt-
She inhaled sharply.
A hacker. That was the only explanation.
"Ship..." Her voice cracked, and she coughed, spraying blood over the screen. Andromeda grimaced and grabbed a nearby rag to wipe it down. "Ship, display user records over the last week."
A quick look at the onscreen calendar confirmed that today was the 28th of August. They'd launched into space on the 23rd.
The control panel pulled up a page with the user records from the 21st onwards. Andromeda scanned through it, but couldn't find anything out of place. The only users who'd accessed the motherboard were herself and her counterpart, Sirius. He was dead.
She bit her lip. "Ship, confirm distance to Earth."
So they were almost at Jupiter's orbit. Andromeda sighed. She thought they'd passed Neptune days ago; how could they only be at Jupiter? Unless the shuttle path got messed up, she thought. She racked her brain, trying to remember when she'd altered the shuttle path.
"Ship, show predetermined shuttle path."
A map popped up, showing the entire solar system. True to Andromeda's estimate, the shuttle was close to Jupiter.
It was right in the middle of the asteroid belt, and the predetermined shuttle path went along the asteroid orbit. There was no way they could've avoided a collision.
Andromeda rammed her fist into the control panel and tried not to start crying again. She'd thought she was tougher than this. She was an android, for heavens' sake. Androids weren't even supposed to feel emotion, and here she was, terrified out of her mind.
But at least she had a reason. Someone had tried to kill them, and that someone had almost succeeded.
And Andromeda had survived, somehow. She pushed the thought out of her mind and focused on the task at hand.
"Ship override. Reverse shuttle path and head straight to Earth."
The ship obeyed, and the shuttle turned sluggishly in the direction of Earth. Andromeda exhaled in relief and buried her face in her hands, leaning on the panel.
The entire ship lurched sideways as the asteroid hit. Andromeda sucked in a breath and gripped the control panel as her chair slid beneath her.
"You're kidding me!" Andromeda shouted. "Ship, activate emergency thrusters."
The ship careened from side to side, frantically trying to stabilize itself-
Sparks flew from the side of the ship that had been hit, and the lights flickered on and off. Andromeda snarled in frustration and pushed herself to the other side of the control panel, where various buttons and yokes sat before her. "Ship, enter manual command mode."
She grabbed the yoke and swung it to the left, forcing the shuttle to whip around, and nearly throwing herself off balance. Andromeda gritted her teeth and slammed her hand down on the green button, activating what she called the emergency-emergency thrusters: the antimatter engines.
The ship shot forward like a bullet, and Andromeda pulled back on the yoke, stopping just before an asteroid zoomed past. Her heart thumped, and she pushed the yoke forward, encouraging the ship to go faster, faster.
Pinpoints of light flew past the windows, and Mars came into view. Andromeda settled back into the chair, fingers still tight around the handles of the yoke. She breathed in and out, in and out, trying to calm the relentless thumping in her head.
The thumping ceased. All she could hear was the sizzling of the wires behind her.
Earth came into view, blue and green and brown and white, and Andromeda smiled.