End of the task?

Alathea casually twirled the altitude knob, coaxing her spaceship higher and treating herself to a panoramic view of towers stuffed with more people than a clown car at a galactic circus. She reclined in her ergonomic chair, savoring the sensation of Neo’s fingers giving her back a thorough kneading. Neo, her comrade in this project, loomed behind her like a shadow that doubled as an indispensable masseur in her cozy one-seater ship—a vessel so compact it made a shoebox seem like a grand ballroom.

Crafted for solo adventurers, the ship had engineers playing a cosmic game of Tetris, cramming in the essentials. Most of the precious space was dedicated to the Holtzman drive, while the rest played host to must-haves for recycling water and air.

Alathea, riding the wave of liberating Terrans from the grip of AI overlords, now discovered herself knee-deep in the deconstruction of the AI Towers alongside the Sisterhood. These towers had been busier than a caffeinated robot, sprouting data tumors like a space-age garden gone wrong.

The master plan? Evacuate all humans and then Marie Kondo the planet, decluttering the pollution and giving the ecosystems a chance to stretch their metaphorical legs. Picture it as a celestial clean-up crew with a lucrative side hustle in eco-restoration—a bit like Marie Kondo, if she had a spacesuit and a knack for convincing alien life forms to spark joy.

But here’s the cosmic conundrum: the evacuation was moving at the speed of a space snail on a particularly lackadaisical Sunday. Why the sluggish pace? Well, for those who had been snug in the AI’s carefully curated virtual reality, the rude awakening of a polluted planet 10,000 years later was a shock akin to going from a sci-fi Disneyland to an intergalactic dump. The impact hit them harder than a hyperdrive malfunction during rush hour.

But, as they say in the cosmos, there’s no turning back now. It was time to roll up those spacesuit sleeves and dive headfirst into the interstellar business of cleaning up and forging a fresh start. Perhaps a few extraterrestrial motivational speakers could be recruited to boost spirits—because, as everyone knows, laughter is the best jet fuel for the soul.

“What was that?” Neo asked, pointing over her shoulder.

“What?” Alathea replied.

“That.” He gestured dramatically, pointing at the tower a few kilometers away.

A cloud of dust billowed at the tower’s base as if it had played hide-and-seek with the planet’s crust. A tower full of people—her designated cosmic carpool—was now turning into a subterranean residence. She scanned the surroundings, trying to uncover the celestial prankster behind this architectural disappearing act.

“Another one!” Neo’s voice hit a high note, pointing to a neighboring tower.

Alathea chuckled. “Great. Now it’s a tower tango. Maybe the universe is trying to tell us we need a crash course in interstellar architecture. It’s not what I had in mind for ‘safe evacuation’ on my resume.”

Alathea slammed the control panel like it owed her space credits. Activating all sensors was the celestial equivalent of turning on the lights in a dark room. Lo-and-behold, on the other side of the toppled towers, stood another Imperial ship.

“Hey! What are you doing? Those towers are not yet evacuated,” she furiously messaged the ship.

In response, another cloud of dust put on a ground-level ballet at the base of the third tower, as if it had just joined a cosmic mosh pit.

“Why are they killing them?”

“I don’t know. They are not answering!” Alathea lamented, her cosmic frustration meter hitting warp speed. The Imperial ship seemed to have taken a vow of silence, leaving her in the void of unanswered questions.

Alathea zoomed towards the spaceship like a comet on a mission, her eyes locked onto the House emblem. Lo-and-behold, a stylized woman with wings adorned the screen. Some misguided soul from the Duke’s army had taken a detour through the cosmos.

Duke Anjila and his merry band of soldiers had rolled into town a few days prior, deciding to hop on the evacuation bandwagon. Alathea had warned the Mother Superior of Bene Gesserit about the perils of inviting the Duke before the Sisterhood wrapped up their cosmic cleanup. It was a rare moment of bravery for Alathea, who usually kept her opinions tucked away like a cat in a cardboard box. Yet, she couldn’t help but appreciate the Terrans and their knack for thriving in conditions that screamed “impossible.” It was almost as impressive as finding a towel in the vastness of space.

“Your grace! Hold the obliterating towers in the green quadrant. It is not evacuated!” Alathea belted out, cranking up the volume.

But alas, the only response she got was the spectacular implosion of yet another tower.

“Make them stop!”

“I’m giving it my best shot. Something is seriously amiss. It’s like they’re on a communication diet and not receiving my interstellar texts.”

She frantically scanned her spaceship, checking for glitches or cosmic hiccups. Yet Duke and his crew were as responsive as a black hole at a comedy show, completely ignoring her messages. Maybe the universe had played hide-and-seek with her communication signals.

“Strap in,” she commanded, gesturing towards the floor that boasted a makeshift harness designed for keeping her cot in check. “I can’t beam the message, but I can surely make a personal appearance.”

Neo, surprisingly spry for a virtual reality veteran, hastily secured himself. There was still a touch of awkwardness in his movements, a residual glitch in the transition from the digital to the physical. Nevertheless, he was catching on like a spacefaring acrobat on a gravity-defying trapeze.

Alathea, on the other hand, wrestled with her pilot seat and engaged in an epic struggle with her robes. Despite the practical unitard she’d sported for the mission, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood decided that when Duke showed up, it was time for robes. Go figure. She wasn’t exactly thrilled about the wardrobe change. After all, she was no sister; she was a Ghola. But Mother Superior insisted, and as any interstellar traveler knows, it’s wise not to argue with the one who decides whether would she live or die.

She slammed the controls, hurtling straight toward Anjila’s ship, strategically placing hers like an interstellar referee between the ship and the endangered towers.

“Move!” a commanding voice bellowed from the speakers. Ah, sweet relief—communications were functional.

“These towers are still occupied!” Alathea shot back.

“I’m well aware. Shift or I’ll turn your spaceship into cosmic confetti.”

“No way! I’m not budging an inch!” she declared, gripping the controls with a determination stronger than a neutron star’s gravitational pull.

Duke’s ship unleashed a barrage of laser beams, hitting Alathea’s spacecraft and catapulting it into a wild spin. She clenched her jaw and flexed her leg muscles, desperately trying to maintain blood flow to her brain as she grappled with the controls to regain stability. The hit was spot on, taking out all the right-side thrusters. Faced with limited options, she reluctantly powered down the left ones and began a pulsating dance between the front and back thrusters. Unfortunately, instead of solving the problem, this approach merely added random jerks to the already nauseating spin.

Neo, unable to stomach the cosmic rollercoaster, unleashed a spectacular display of zero-gravity vomit, decorating the cabin in a way that would make a modern artist proud. Chunks of unidentified space food even found their way to the control panel, a testament to Neo’s lackluster chewing skills. Undeterred, Alathea wiped away the nearest chunks with the grace of a seasoned space janitor, all the while keeping her eyes on the tumultuous task at hand. Miraculously, the erratic movement of the ship, coupled with the added drag from atmospheric resistance, slowed down the cosmic calamity. The universe, it seemed, had a soft spot for the unexpected benefits of space vomit.

With a bone-rattling impact, they careened into the ground, smashing through the initial layer of debris. Alathea’s head snapped back against the headrest, and a curtain of blackness enveloped her consciousness like an interstellar blackout. The universe, it seemed, had a penchant for surprise landings.


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