Part 3: A Shell of a Person

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

There was no point when Edna Star awoke, only the gradual slipping in of pain through the cracks in the restful nothing that held her. The pain pulled Edna, piece by piece, through those cracks and reassembled her in the world of the waking - the world of tortoises. Why tortoises?

It was a delicate, thoughtful putting back together. If time was her old friend, what was pain? Certainly it was devoted to her, she thought. It hardly left her side - or her back, or face, or ribs. At that, she realized she was thinking, and had been for a few moments.

She was awake, then. It was all coming slowly, like a turtle - hmmm - but it was coming. A tuxedoed man. An explosion. A shell? Edna tried to open her eyes - tried to sit up - but the pain was there, cradling her, urging her to take her time.

There was almost always some point in an adventure - she feared she was on one now - when you awoke in total bodily pain. (The worst adventures being the ones that started this way.) This was one of many proofs, she claimed, that adventuring is dumb. If you know it’s going to make you miserable, why choose it?

She finally blinked her eyes open for the first time since her awareness had returned. The light of the bright room flooded in with blurry visions of someone - something - she couldn’t quite comprehend. That confirmed her fears. Adventures were home to the incomprehensible - where such things lived and worked and tried to kill you or befriend you or both.

Edna rubbed her eyes, despite protests from the pain. The lines of the incomprehensible thing sharpened, but made little more sense. Then she said, “Turtle,” for it looked like a turtle. Its green head hovered inches from her own, less green one. She thought she could see its massive, shelled body standing on the floor below, but it was too far away.

The head bobbed slightly as the room shook a little. The giant tortoise made no other acknowledgement of the tremor, but it did speak, so that’s not nothing. “Turtoid. How are you feeling?” The voice was male and natural-sounding and the mouth moved convincingly, but Edna Star has never taken a tortoise with a human voice as a given. (And she suggests you don’t, either.)

“Robot?” she asked, ignoring its question - of course she felt terrible.

“Turtoid,” the turtoid insisted. Robot, Edna confirmed in her mind. Then it added, “but I am called Pythagoras.”

“Of course you are,” she grunted, sitting up, “because who would call a robot - or turtoid - Craig or Tina.”

Pythagoras retracted his head from its spot near hers. It came to rest closer to his shell, where a real turtle’s head ought be. He - it, they - was silent for a moment. In Edna’s experience, robots didn’t do well with sarcasm. Not that she had a glut of experience, mind you. Robots weren’t common companions for adventurers - though certainly more so than for the non-adventuring class. For most, you’d only see one if you stumbled into the background of a particular type of adventure (or if the background stumbled onto you).

An army of drones might fly through your windmill while you hammered at it. (You tell me why. It’s your windmill.) You’d start to wobble and fall, but just in time a trailing hero would swoop by, set you right, say something dashing, and leave you with the bill. Or a metal man might rise from the sea while you were having a kiss on the beach, walking right between you and the (I don’t know) tailor’s apprentice, getting sand all over your grandmother’s quilt.

Edna pushed thoughts of robots aside to focus on her present. She realized she was sitting on a bed - a nice one. Her green-but-shouldn’t-be clothes were torn and stained, but they were holding together - and more importantly, still on her. She had woken under similar circumstances in hospital gowns or borrowed clothing, and she did not care for that. Bandages wrapped round her stomach and spots on her arms and legs. The pain in these places assured her it was investigating the matter.

With great effort, she swung her legs to the side, letting them dangle to the floor. She could feel a soft vibration through her feet. She was on a ship of some kind, she guessed, but what sort? This jerking was too rough and irregular for the water. Perhaps an airship? Either way, it was good. A ship can be turned around.

She took in the room for the first time. It was about the size of her study, but couldn’t have been more different. Well, it could have been a horse, but as rooms go it was a big change. It was mostly empty, but what was was all new and spotless and bright. Two huge windows on either side of the bed covered much of the walls. They were curtained over, but a bright, white light peeked around the edges, permeating the room.

Straight ahead was a door. A few feet from it stood a coat rack - a dusty, tailed tuxedo coat hanging from one rung, her leather bag opposing it on another. She suspected she knew what that meant, but she tried not to think about it.

Just then, a booming, but indistinct voice hurdled through the door from somewhere far off. There was no malice to its volume, nor any purpose she could judge. Its loudness was, it seemed, not a reaction, but a way of being. That confirmed the suspicions she was trying to ignore.

The room jerked again, then Pythagoras spoke, “I have notified the Captain you are awake. He insists that you rest.” Captain. She wondered if her home invader added that to his veritable grocery list of titles, or if he replaced them with it.

“TINA could be an acronym,” Pythagoras blurted, startling her from attempts to shove the word captain between the bits she remembered of the tuxedoed man’s name. Robots didn’t blurt.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Apology accepted. You asked who might call a robot Tina.”

Ah, he was still confused. “I was being—“ she began, but he cut her off. That never happened.

“—Facetious. I know. Nevertheless, I believe someone might call a robot TINA if it stood for something. ‘Turtoid Industrial Network Archivist’ perhaps.” He just stared at her then.

Edna stood, trying to ignore the sudden outburst of her pain, as she stared the turtoid back. “I was going to say ‘rude’, but yours is kinder, thank you.” She gave up her staring contest and continued speaking as she hobbled toward the window. “I owe you an apology, Pythagoras. I think I have misjudged you.” She reached the curtains, found their central part, and yanked them open.

They were flying through a cloud. An airplane, then. But no, for above there was a huge, sloping… thing. What could that be? The room shook again, her pain jolting through her side. You shouldn’t be standing! it screamed. She winced, grabbing the spot.

Her hand laid flat across a bandage-covered pocket. An empty bandage-covered pocket. Edna froze.

Her watch. Where was her watch?

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