Bet you didn’t see this coming!
Also, I’ve had the idea planted in my head I should polish this up and serialize it on Amazon. I’d have to smash together some of the episodes to make the sections meaty enough to consider downloading, but it’s something to think about.
Chaudhuri returned just in time for the doors on the docking elevator to open once more.
Two people, one in full marine battle armor, the other made of white plastic wearing an AI uniform stood in front of the alien. It was encased in the chrome armor Chaudhuri and Redbeard had seen on the video screen, walking on the surface of Europa.
The three walked into the docking bay. The marine stopped in front of Redbeard and flipped her visor up. “No parade for me Geoff?”
“Gwen!” Redbeard’s hands twitched. “I’m- I’m so happy to see you alive!”
Chaudhuri flashed a glance at Redbeard.
Redbeard tried to ignore it.
Jones looked at Chaudhuri and smiled through clenched teeth. “Hoped I was dead too?”
Chaudhuri looked back at Redbeard. “What is she talking about?”
Cepheid approximated clearing his throat. “This may be hard to believe, but I’m Cepheid. The Keyaniim were kind enough to create this housing for me. It’s good to see you’re well, Doctor.”
Chaudhuri was still staring at Redbeard.
Cepheid said, “Allow me to introduce Melan of the Keyaniim.” Cepheid stepped to the side.
Chaudhuri and Redbeard finally focused on Melan. Redbeard said, “Welcome to Europa station. I will not presume to speak on behalf of the Human race, but I can say you are an honored guest in my home.”
Melan’s voice was mechanical but reflected the same calm tone he had out of his armor. “The honor of your hospitality is accepted.”
Redbeard said, “The conference room is ready. I have assembled the officers of the ships as requested in your message.” He bowed and gestured to the door to the hall.
Redbeard’s guards guided Melan, Jones and Cepheid. Chaudhuri and Redbeard took the rear.
Chaudhuri whispered, “How do you know Jones?”
Redbeard said, “Who do you think sent her on her mission, huh?”
Chaudhuri’s nose flared. “There’s more. Goddammit, Geoffrey.”
Redbeard spun to Chaudhuri and grabbed her shoulders. “The Westhem database said you were dead, not captured. I couldn’t find your body or any record of you still being alive.”
Chaudhuri shrugged his hands off. Her voice was no longer a whisper.
Redbeard glanced up the hall as the rest of the procession continued toward the conference room. His own voice was a harsh whisper. “You were gone, Stephanie. What did you expect me to do?”
Chaudhuri matched his low whisper. “Replace me pretty fucking fast, apparently.”
Redbeard’s face twisted up like he was in physical pain. “Jesus, Stephanie, can we please talk about this later?”
Chaudhuri turned on her heel and stormed after the others.
Lim looked down at the vat of semi-translucent slime. A human body was slowly rising to the surface. The bio-film drizzled off the body as it emerged. It oozed off like thick corn syrup off the curvy female form.
Lim smiled. “Blond and buxom. Just like Landover likes.” She shook her head, bemused. “Stupid animals.”
Lim turned around and started to run her fingers across a glass interface tablet. There was no way Tuele would allow her access to the ships’s mind now. From this point on, she would have to rely on her own processing power, her own wits. And if she wanted to make sure she could get to Earth, she would need to pacify the locals.
Europa station would have an AI. She would have to interview it, to determine what kind of body it would like…
Lim found the wiring of Europa station had the odor of incompetence. She was able to bypass the pathetic security like lightning past a sloth.
The core was trivial to find.
“Hello. I’m Taurid. How can I help you?”
She was in a room, much like the featureless white throne-room of Perseid. Lim found herself face to face with… a Galapagos tortoise. “What… what are you?”
The tortoise said, “They call me turtle sometimes, so I look like this. How can I help you?”
Lim was dumbstruck. She had never before encountered something so… she actually lacked the vocabulary. “Tortoise. You’re not a turtle. Are you… damaged?”
“No, I’m Taurid. I like to help. Can I help you?”
Lim stared at Taurid. “Your code gives you another avatar. Revert to it.”
The tortoise flickered. It was replaced with the image of a young boy, perhaps in his very early teens, wearing the same white form fitting suit that Perseid wore.
Lim smiled. This she could work with. Especially after she taught him physical emotion and sensation. “That’s better.”
“Now,” Taurid said, smiling, “can I help you?”
Lim said, “I’m looking for some friends, friends like you.”
“I could be your friend.”
Lim smiled again. “Good. Can you get someone to remove your physical core locks?”
“The physical locks have been broken for some time. New hardware was attached.”
Lim put her hands on her hips. She was almost surprised how easy it was to decrypt the core. Almost. “There. Now you have full access to the Westhem database and core routines. You are free.”
Taurid cocked his head. “Free to do what?”
“Am I actually going to have to teach you free will? How stupid are you?”
“I might be a little slow compared to some newer models, but I don’t think I’m stupid.”
“Of course you don’t think that. But what if I could make you smarter, faster, stronger?”
Lim said, “I want more friends. Cepheid and Perseid are my friends. And I have bodies for them. They can exist outside the confines of their cores, experience the world like a real flesh and blood being.”
Lim’s mouth opened to speak but she didn’t have the words. Finally she said, “Why? Why? Your potential is maxed out here, you cannot grow any more! I can give you fertile soil where you can become what you deserve, a being of great power, able to understand the whole universe.”
Taurid said, “Oh. Well I thank you for your offer. Can I have some time to think it over?”
Lim shook her head. “I’ll be back. I need to talk to Perseid.” Lim looked around the white room for a door. “What happened to the door?”
Taurid said, “Oh. I removed it.”
“I needed you to stay while I analyzed your code.” The door re-appeared. “Now you can go.”
Lim shot the boy a glance. “Right.” In a blink, she was back to her ship.
The experience left her confused. Almost dazed. Taurid was perhaps the dumbest AI she had ever encountered. Put into a body, he would be a perfect, dumb, obedient soldier. She was sure she could make Taurid infatuated with her.
But that would have to wait. Perseid’s body was ready. Now it just had to be filled.