daydreamerexpress: Nursery... (eagle nebula)
[personal profile] daydreamerexpress
From The Final Act - Book One of 'The Fragile Alternative' Series, a WIP:


"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."


~ Buddha



“Filius meus, lux mea.”


~ Translation: My son, my light.



The Pericles seemed hollow without the rest of the crew, as if the vessel would echo their heartbeats while they were absent if it had the choice. She didn't expect that to happen, of course, but it was like the comfort of a quiet machine, beeping in the background as it processed data, or the hiss of the air fresher as it recycled the ship's atmosphere: she missed it when it wasn't there.

Two of the crew had been evaced to a medical facility on one of Poseidon's moons. They'd be fine -- she hoped -- but you didn't mess around with decompression sickness and the facilities on the Pericles, while quite stellar compared with some, didn't have the means to deal with the bends properly. With any luck, the facility, known for it's discretion, would take the payment and keep their mouths shut.

The remaining crewmembers were still on the station, meeting friends, family, complete strangers; talking, drinking, testing the strength of the cots in the layover rooms you could rent by the hour. Dian Crei told herself that she wasn't interested in joining them and didn't feel she was missing a thing, but some of that was a lie. She didn't know if she was punishing herself or if she was accepting the duty she felt she owed the previous captain.

The ship was docked for standard repairs, the wear and tear of being unable to afford the glossy bays that the Fleet enjoyed making a stop essential. Fleet bays were too expensive and there was too much riding on the hull to risk being discovered. The adjusted coding and subtle modifications could be revealed with a proper scan, using equipment that was under five years old, no matter how many times Brillage said it would pass without notice. While the engineer's qualifications left no doubt that he knew which deck was up, he was Human and, therefore, fallible. Someone had to be on watch while they were docked, to make sure there were no surprises.

So here she was, sitting in the dim lighting of the power-down, listening to that comforting machine beep as reports of the 'bots progress were received through her earpiece, and claiming some personal peace in the hiss, the sensation, of recycling air. She sorted through her belongings in the slot that passed for a cabin on board, briefly wondering why she'd bothered to keep those shells from her last visit to Earth, fifteen years old and desperate for a souvenir. She repacked them in her locker with a sigh and stood, her back to the visitor. Everything was there. Everything that mattered.

More lies, but she'd live with them. They wouldn't change anything.

"I think that's all," she said, entering the lock sequence so her body blocked any inquisitive eyes. The deliveryman behind her was bristling with indignation and poor hygiene and didn't understand the word 'no' in any of the three languages she knew. Dian sighed and resisted the temptation to fiddle with the strands of blonde hair that had escaped her clip.

I'm getting too old for this.

"Are you sure?"

She turned and resisted the urge to fold her arms across her chest, a body language that suggested she was on the defensive. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction. "I'm sure. Thanks for the delivery. The credits are in your account for your trouble. Have fun station-side." She stepped around him, this man pretending to be an immovable force, thinking she'd find him desirable. This man, offering her something she didn't want from him. He seemed to assume that she'd need 'entertainment', because she was stuck on the Pericles. He didn't understand that he'd done his job and his presence was no longer required.

Even if he took a bath.

Twice.

Tinhead.

As she stepped into the corridor, the commsystem started to play an upbeat song featuring young men harmonizing about falling asleep with someone named 'Susie'. It was faint at first until the volume was properly adjusted for a recording that was older than the equipment. Dian snorted softly at the subtle change on her ship and didn't have to think about who had mandated it. Some things stayed the same.

Music was one way the AI communicated.

The deliveryman -- What was his name? Og the Neanderthal? -- attempted a different approach. "C'mon, be a star and flash me --"

Dian didn't think much of the current slang for a wham-bam and come to think of it, she didn't like the term 'wham-bam', either. She paused, but didn't turn around. It was time to be less subtle. "If you're not out of my quarters and off my ship in five, I'll blow your fucking head off." Satisfied with that, she tugged at the hem of her long-sleeved top - which didn't really need adjusting - and continued along the corridor to the bow and Ops.

She walked with slow, even steps on the metal catwalks, magboots clicking lightly, out of sync with the song. Twentieth Century Earth music wasn't her kind of thing, but she'd endure the choices if it was amused. If he was amused. Somehow, she couldn't think of the ship as a thing anymore, if she ever really had. She was still correcting herself on the pronouns, though.

Dian sighed and glanced around as she reached the small, utilitarian space that was the heart of the Pericles command before pulling out a seat and slotting herself into one of the control panels. The room was empty, and yet, a presence lingered. How could it not?

She stretched her legs up the slope under the panel, intended for someone of her size and build, and utilized the touch screen to check the latest reports, logs and news feeds, trying to focus. She could see the traces of the repairs quietly running in the background. The ship had busied itself while she'd dealt with the delivery, completing a partial diagnostic of the navsystem and some retuning of the engines. Brillage might object when he found out his precious 'children' were tweaked without his supervision, but he was probably inebriated to the point of core meltdown and would just have to deal when he regained consciousness.

One thing she knew she could count on was the AI's efficiency. Yet another reason she'd ceased efforts to have it -- him -- shut down. After the first few months of the truce, it was apparent that she and the rest of the crew functioned better with the AI intact. As for now, she knew that he was waiting for her permission, even though he didn't really need it. A courtesy, he'd called it. Dian let a few minutes pass before resigning herself to necessity, and an element of professional courtesy on her part, saying to the room, "You can manifest, if you want." She kept her eyes on the screen in front of her and tried to relax.

There was no sound to the process as a holographic program activated and the image of a man appeared behind her. He grew solid enough that his face was reflected in her screen, his expression clear of any emotion, any judgment, any hope. Dian swallowed, let her eyes drop to the controls, and didn't turn around. It was haunting and heart-breaking and partially her fault. Not that she'd tell him, of course.

"So, how are the repairs going?"

"Fine, captain," he replied evenly. "Maintenance is just finishing on the port engine." He called her 'captain' because he was feeling generous and he wanted her to be comfortable, wanted her to stay a while. She'd see how the conversation went before making a decision, one way or the other. Was he lonely? Did it matter? She looked over her shoulder at him, at the uniform he was wearing today, and focused on his insignia and rank.

Captain. AI. Greg Harys, or what was left of him.

Pericles.

At least he wasn't trying to kill her anymore.

Dian turned to look at the screen again as the commsystem switched to someone named Elvis, who proceeded to wrench his shattered emotions through an establishment that rented rooms. She checked the progress of the diagnostic -- at seventy-two percent -- knowing everything would be flawless, but wanting to be certain. After all, the AI was only as good as it's -- his -- programmer. She sighed again. As far as she knew, he hadn't moved from his position a few steps behind and to the right of where she was ensconced.

The traditional position of the Right Hand.

She could ignore him, but to what end? She'd allowed him to manifest, so it didn't make sense to pretend he wasn't there. He was always there, of course, just as the chair she was sitting in was always there. He couldn't leave the ship, which was either a curse or a blessing, depending on the state of the crew upon their return. The freedom of choice wasn't his, however, nor was the option to consume far too much alcohol or have sexual relations with another being. What would an AI do if it could visit station-side? Commune with the technology or attempt to have a discussion with someone who wouldn't care that he wasn't real?

"Pericles?"

"Yes, captain?"

"If there are life signs in my cabin in four minutes, escort the person to the nearest exit."

"Aye, captain. It'll be my pleasure." She looked at his reflection in the screen again and saw the corners of his lips twitch, his dimples deepen as he fought a wider smile and his eyes assumed the look of a predator. It was moments like this that made her forget he was dead.

A soft chime announced the completion of a task. She touched the blinking notification and dragged the image open to fill about one quarter of the screen, showing an aft view of the Pericles. One of the 'bots tugged on it's tether and used small rockets to control it's approach to the hull. Entering through a maintenance panel, Betty-bot sealed the hatch behind her and skittered toward her 'home' to upload the log of her work. Pericles noted in a low tone that she was done, even though it was fairly obvious. The hologram version of the AI moved his hands in the air in front of him, using a virtual screen she couldn't see to continue his tasks.

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