Flying Sparks (MH Questus)
Father taught me many things: how to fly, how to calculate velocities of approaching projectiles and which thrusters to fire in which sequence to maximize thrust and maneuverability without crushing all of my crew into paste. He taught me at what distances energy beams will slice through the alien warships and at what distance to switch to kinetic weapons in order to maximize my odds of survival. He taught me the differences between gas giants (large radar blind spots behind them, good for ambushes or remaining undetected), metal-core planets (powerful magnetic fields can disrupt missile guidance systems), and asteroid fields (fundamentally useless for anything except to ignore when a captain suggests hiding in them). He gave me a broad and functional vocabulary: Orbital bombardment, full burn maneuvers, defensive interceptor fire, brace for impact, victory. Everything he taught me was the language of war, of protection, of the nobility of sacrifice, and the armoured invincibility I represented.
In over five years of constant fighting, I have never found my education wanting. Until I met Sparks.
I suppose ’met’ is a bit of a misnomer. Sparks boarded me during a routine overhaul after some particularly close fighting in the Omega Cluster. I took no particular note of her initially; she, like the other engineers, crawled through my corridors, rewiring, fusing, repairing, adapting. She was deft with her hands, wore her red hair in a ponytail, and owned exactly three sets of identical grey engineering coveralls. Supplies were always behind schedule, and Captain Blake was always pushing to be back on the front, hugging his children desperately and kissing his husband goodbye before sending us all back into the cold black nothing between stars.
At first, during the long weeks of the voyage where there was nothing to do aside from monitor the long range sensors passively and wait, I thought that Sparks spent her time speaking to herself as she worked. She was supposed to wear a helmet at all times while on duty, but Captain Blake always informed the crew that it was a stupid rule and they could ignore it if they wanted. Something about ‘admirals envision space full of friendly fleets, hundreds of passing ships, a delusion more insane by the month’. Captain Blake would always get a chuckle from the crew at that, something I could hear echoing through my hallways in a sort of quiet desperation.
As a result, or in spite of it I would later suspect, Sparks never wore her helmet. Goggles, occasionally, when she directed her plasma torch at some part of me that was being particularly stubborn, slicing it away precisely, swiftly.
“There ya go,” she’d mutter to herself, the mangled mess of hull freed at last from the grips of its fusion-melted neighbouring pieces. “That’s better, isn’t it?”
It was. As she worked, knots within my core slowly unraveled. Tension in my broad forward armaments would be relieved. She would spend time in my primary sensor cluster and a day later I could see more clearly than when I had flown free of spacedock for the first time. She spent a day in my belly once, muttering into coolants and oils and grease, and afterwards I could feel my thrusters strain harder, faster, more responsive than in years.
“Where does it hurt?” she’d ask, handheld devices pinging softly, probing gently. “Talk to me, Brave. Talk to me.”
It took me a full cycle to realize she was actually talking to me and not herself.
“What seems to be the issue, Ship?” said Captain Blake when I first communicated with him about Sparks. This was the name I was used to: ‘Ship’ was a clear summation of my function and my purpose. My formal name, Bravely into the Stars, was almost never used among the crew and only infrequently when I was in contact with the other vessels of the human armada. Father’s programming informed me that Ship was the proper form of address for a naval officer when speaking to their assigned A.I., and it didn’t occur to me that anyone might use something else.
“One of the crew,” I stated, keeping my voice quiet so as to intrude on the captain as little as possible, “has started asking me questions.”
“Oh?” Captain Blake put down his battered copy of Moby Dick and folded his hands in his lap. He looked tired: he always looked tired these days. So many letters to write, and he refused to let me automate the process. “Does he know you’re listening?”
“I am uncertain, Captain. And it is a ‘she’, sir.”
“Must be the new Hull Technician,” Captain Blake said with a nod. “Good kid.”
“Do you know her name, sir?” I asked. “I’ve heard several crew members refer to her as ‘Sparks’, but never by her given name.”
Crew dossiers were not part of my umbrella of responsibilities: I dealt primarily with destroying things outside my body and tried to keep the things inside my body safe. Father had deemed that knowing more about the people who lived, and often died, within my confines wouldn’t help me perform my duties.
“I do,” Captain Blake was smiling, which was strangely comforting to see. “But I think it would be rude to tell you when you can just ask her yourself.”
“I am currently unable to speak with any crew unless critical combat situations dictate—”
“Right, right, that’s enough of that. Ship, I hereby authorize you to speak to any other crew during non-combat times at your own discretion.”
“Authorization?” I intoned automatically.
“Blake, passphrase ‘Were His Chest A Cannon, Alpha Nine Zero Nine’.”
I felt something click in place in my programming. A few lines of code carefully rerouted.
“Anything else, Ship?”
I hesitated. I had never spoken to anyone other than Captain Blake before. What if she didn’t like me? What if she didn’t like talking about evasive maneuvers or combat protocols? Would she be happy or terrified if I responded to her when next she said my name?
“No, Sir.” I was abuzz with possibilities, and immediately devoted a significant chunk of my excess processing power to trying to figure out the right moment to say something to Sparks.
Captain Blake returned to his book with a smile on his face.
* * *
Speaking with Sparks was easy in theory. My entire body was covered in internal microphones and speakers, mostly to let Captain Blake give commands quickly and easily, but also to allow me to speak at crucial moments during combat, if needed. I had occasionally addressed the entire crew, or even divisions of the crew, saying things like “Gunner’s Mate to the Forward Missile Batteries”, or “All crew, brace for impact in T-minus five!”, but I had only ever spoken directly to Captain Blake himself.
It was early the next shift when Sparks started talking to me again. She was outside me, carefully patching micro-holes in the hull from the last attack. While we were moving through vacuum at mathematically complicated speeds, inertia was always a constant and Sparks and I might’ve seemed stationary relative to each other.
She was muttering into her Vacsuit’s mic when I heard her say my name again. “Hey there, Brave,” she whispered, eyes narrowing in on another finger-sized indent in my hull. “Let’s clean these scratches up, okay?”
I was at a loss for words. Should I say something formal? ‘Hello, Engineer—’. That wouldn’t work, I didn’t know her name! Maybe I could try telling one of Captain Blake’s jokes? The one about several religious figures entering a drinking establishment seemed popular with the last rotation of crew. But had she already heard it?
The moment passed, and she brushed a thickly gloved hand over my hull. My sensors were calibrated to detect subluminal velocity munition impacts, to determine damage estimates from beams of coherent energy capable of vaporizing meteors. And yet, just where her hands touched my side, ever so gently, I felt something. A flicker of static, perhaps. But something.
“Hello,” I said, and Sparks screamed.
“Sparks?” That was the communication officer, his voice raised in panic. “Are you alright? Do you require assistance?”
Sparks had dropped her plasma torch and placed both hands over her chest. Her discarded torch floated nearby, drifting ever so slightly towards me as the minimal gravity pulled us together. Ten thousand metric tonnes was impressively insignificant, really, on a cosmic gravitational scale.
“I’m fine, Control, I’m fine.” Her breathing was a little laboured, her heart rate slightly elevated, but otherwise Sparks seemed recovered. She grabbed the torch with both hands, brandishing it in front of herself like a holy emblem to ward off evil. “I think the A.I. just talked to me.”
“I did.” I paused for a moment as Sparks let out a tiny squeak. “Hello, Engineer.”
“Um.” Sparks did a slow rotation with a quick burst from her suit-mounted thrusters. “Which one of you is doing this? James, is this you?”
“My name is not James. My formal name is Bravely into the Stars.”
“Haha. Very funny guys. Frankie? This your idea?”
“My name is not Frankie either.”
“You’re really the A.I. controlling Bravely into the Stars?”
This caused me some pause. It was a difficult concept to convey: thankfully, I’m primarily housed in a quantum computer the size of a house, so such considerations of language can be performed almost instantaneously.
“If you were to meet somebody new, would they ask if you are just your brain controlling your body?” I felt good about this metaphor.
“Uh, no, I suppose not.”
“Then I am not the A.I. controlling the ship. I am the ship.”
“Can anyone else hear you?” Sparks’s voice wavered slightly. Fear or excitement, or a mix of the two. My external sensors are designed to pinpoint heat billions of kilometres distant, not minutia hovering less than a meter from my skin.
“If they were within earshot? Yes. I am currently using your comm system in your helmet to communicate. Were you inside me, I would use one of the wall mounted speakers.”
“Ah. So Control thinks I’m talking to myself?”
“I have temporarily severed your comm link and informed the Ensign that everything is currently under control.”
“Ah.” Sparks was still spinning slowly in the vacuum, her gaze constantly shifting across my surface. Sensor cluster, port side cannons, engine struts, wing, fore missile batteries, sensor cluster, port side cannons…
“I did not mean to startle you, Engineer.” I tried to modulate my voice towards ‘comforting’, although I think it landed somewhere closer to ‘confident of impending victory’. I liked using that tone.
Sparks nodded within the confines of her suit. “Sorry about that. Not every day the ship talks to you.”
Another pause as I puzzled out her statement.
“The ship never talks to me, so I am afraid I do not have an adequate frame of reference.”
“You never talk to yourself?” Sparks snorted. “No, I suppose you don’t. Sorry, I’m new at talking to A.I.s.”
“No need for concern. I do not have emotions to hurt, Engineer.”
And, just like that, I told Sparks my first lie.
I didn’t speak to Sparks again for a few days. Partially because most of my processing power was devoted to other tasks, and partially because I needed to analyze her reactions more thoroughly.
“Ship, I notice you’ve been spending a lot of cycles on long range sensor monitoring,” Captain Blake observed. “Have you detected something of interest?”
“No, Captain,” I responded immediately. “I simply wish to be cautious. The enemy may be planning something even here.”
Captain Blake blinked a few times, old grey eyes clouded for a moment in confusion. “Ship, we are weeks from the front line. Have you any indication of enemy activity that hasn’t been communicated to me?”
I quickly checked the last several data bursts from HQ: there was, of course, no such information, but I suddenly was uncomfortable at the realization that I had been spending processor power on something pointless. There must be a reason for it.
“No additional information, sir. I just…wanted to be sure?”
I was uncomfortable with the uncertainty in my response. So was the captain for a moment.
“Ship, have you spoken to Sparks?”
A wide grin broke out over the captain’s face, and he visibly relaxed. “Ah, good. Good. I’m assuming it didn’t go very well?”
“It went fine,” I stated curtly. I immediately regretted the tone. “My apologies, sir. I believe it was an adequate first contact.”
“Uh-huh.” The captain’s smile never wavered. “And since then, you’ve been trying to keep busy?” He scrolled through his displays showing my processor usage, and then let out a low whistle. “Exactly how many Level 3 System Evaluations have you conducted?”
“How many are recommended?”
“Four. Per year.” I processed this information for a moment. “I wanted to be certain?”
The captain snorted at that. “Look, I understand wanting to dodge dealing with Sparks.” He held up a hand before I could protest. “And I sympathize. But I can’t have you running yourself ragged trying to avoid talking to her.” His expression took on a hard edge.
“I am not—”
“Ship, this is not a recommendation. You can choose to speak to her or not, but you are no longer allowed to avoid her by keeping yourself ‘too busy’ for the conversation. Am I clear?”
“Sir. Yes, Sir.”
“Good.” The captain’s face softened again. “Just talk to her, Ship. It’ll get easier.”
* * *
Trying to find an opportune moment to speak with Sparks now absorbed a significant number of cycles. In the end, I decided on a moment she happened to be alone.
“Hello, Engineer,” I said, keeping my voice soft enough that I calculated there was only a 0.1% chance it would carry over the sound of falling water.
Sparks squeaked again, less in fear and more in surprise. “Gah! I’m in the shower!”
“I am aware of this, Engineer. You are seldom alone.”
“Look, this isn’t really a great time. You don’t talk to people when they’re naked!”
“I was unaware of this, Engineer. I will add it to my behavioural protocols. My apolo—”
“Wait, wait.” There was the sound of a sigh, and then the patter of water increased in tempo. “Can you see me right now?”
“There are no cameras mounted in the showers, Engineer. I believe this to be a safety concern, but the captain has informed me that it is a question of privacy.”
“Good.” Another sigh. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. Just surprised me.”
“So, how is the weather there, Engineer?”
There was a short barking laugh. “Seriously?”
“I am sorry. My databases include only very rudimentary small-talk protocols. It is not considered an important skill for a warship.”
“I suppose not. So where did you learn the weather question?”
“Occasionally, crew will store movies on my servers during their tour of duty. Most of these involve attempting to procreate in remarkably inefficient ways.”
Sparks laughed at that, and I felt a rush akin to a successful torpedo trajectory calculation.
“Porn? You’re telling me that porn has people asking about the weather?”
Ah! That I could answer as well! I was getting good at this conversation stuff.
“Infrequently,” I stated confidently. “The topic of weather comes up in only 13.2% of the procreation videos. Usually in reference to ‘making it rain’ or ‘golden showers’, although incidents of actual environmental precipitation are rare enough that I suspect they are referring to other factors.”
Another laugh. “Okay, so not from porn. That’s a relief. I’m pretty sure a conversation with an A.I. motivated by those kinda films would involve more flexible pipes than I’d be comfortable with very quickly.”
Sparks had a beautiful laugh, I realized. I wondered if I could get her to do it more. “No, not from those films. I chose a more infrequent genre, I believe identified as ‘drama’. The topic of weather seems to be a consistent starting point for conversations. 38.3% of conversations begin with inquiries similar to the one I asked initially, if you do not correct for length of conversation.”
“Did any of them occur between people in the shower at the time?”
“Ah, no. Very few films seem to have individuals in showers. Nor between sentient warships and intelligent crew members, sadly.”
Had I said something wrong? There was a strange lilt to her voice for a moment, a quiver that hadn’t been there a moment ago. “Yes, Engineer. I have witnessed your work first hand. You are remarkably talented. Which I believe translates to an indicator for intelligence. Have I said something inappropriate?”
“No, no. Just unusual for me to be naked around somebody and have them compliment my brain.”
“I…” I was uncertain what to say to that. “I can attempt to compliment other aspects if you would like?”
“Nah, it’s kinda nice.” She sighed happily, and the sound of the water slowly grew quieter. “I should get to work, though. Thank you for talking to me. Can we do it again later?”
“I would like that very much, Engineer.”
The last few drops of water splattered onto the shower floor. “I thought you didn’t have feelings?”
“Ah.” Curses! “That is, for the subset of routines that are allocated towards non-vital ship functions, I would classify—”
Another laugh, and a set of satisfaction protocols firing off in my processors. Glee!
“Forget it, Brave. We’ll talk later.”
I found, to my surprise, that her saying my name was even better than her laughter.
* * *
That night I spoke to Sparks again. She’d found a small corner of my inner hull, a quiet space away from the rest of the crew.
She huddled down onto the floor, crossing her legs underneath herself and leaning back against the bulkhead behind her. “Brave, you here?”
“I am,” I responded. “Although, technically, I am everywhere.”
Sparks snorted and relaxed a little. “I meant are you paying attention to me, I suppose.”
“I am currently devoting 5.2% of my processing power to this conversation, although at this moment it only requires 0.2% of that limit. The rest has been allocated as a conservative estimate of the maximum necessary in case unexpected events occur.”
Sparks raised an eyebrow. “Unexpected?”
“If you ask me to research something, or detect something, or if the conversation requires probability calculations. I believe 5% of my processor power would be sufficient for any but the most difficult questions, and the additional 0.2% should cover the uncertainty of those calculations.”
“Do you mind if we don’t talk about probabilities and processor power?” Sparks sighed, although she was smiling. “Can we just talk?”
“Of course.” A quick spike in processor power as I attempted to define ‘just talk’. “Should I inquire about the weather again?”
“Definitely not.” A chuckle, her shoulders shaking as she laughed. “Tell me about yourself.”
“I am a Vengeance class destroyer, displacing 10,237.58 metric tonnes under one Earth gravity. My armaments include—”
Sparks held up her hand, just a fraction over her elbow where it rested. “No, no. Not your body. I know all your specs. Tell me about you.”
“Ah.” This required the full 5.2% I had allocated for the conversation, and I momentarily considered pulling resources from the water-recirculation subroutines to bolster the number. I decided against it and attempted to make do with the resources I had. “I am… pleased to be speaking with you. I have only ever spoken directly with the captain before. He is a very nice man, but I am programmed to like him. He could be a total tyrant, theoretically, and I would still believe him to be a nice man and want to help him any way I could.”
“Makes sense,” Sparks said with a brief nod. “I mean, about the captain. Military discipline and all that.”
“That is what Father said, yes.”
“You have a father?” she asked, surprised.
“Of a sort. That is the way the progenitor is titled in my software. Although, strictly speaking, the software now is an amalgamation of over two dozen programmers who have made significant modifications, I am programmed to refer to them all by the singular title ‘Father’.”
“Huh,” Sparks said while nodding slowly. “And is Captain Blake a total tyrant?”
“I do not believe so, but again, I am programmed to be biased.” Another spike in my processing. Next time Sparks would get a full 10% if I could manage it! “Nothing I have observed has led me to question my default protocols regarding the captain. He is capable, and talented, and cares about his mission.”
“But does he care about you?”
“I do not know. He certainly sees me as necessary to the success of his missions.”
“Okay, but does he care about you?”
“I do not believe I have adequate framing for that question, Engineer.”
“Please, call me Sparks.”
A jolt of pleasure fired from that. “As you wish, Sparks.”
“Do you ever feel lonely? No other ship A.I.s to talk to out here?”
“There are occasionally, although we do not converse such as this. A.I.s speak the language of numbers and data and reports. We update each other’s programming, tell stories in spreadsheets and graphs. And most data transfers last milliseconds, if that.” There is a brief pause as I attempt to frame the thoughts firing through my mind. “But I do not believe I am lonely. It is not an emotion I was programmed for.”
Sparks hugged her knees tightly to her chest. “That must be nice.”
“Do you feel lonely, Sparks?” I asked as gently as I could.
“Sometimes. There are distractions, of course, and I love my work.” She smiled sweetly and ran a hand along my bulkhead. “You’re a beautiful ship, Brave.”
“I was designed for optimal force projection,” I stated automatically.
“Yeah, originally I’m sure you were. But even now, years later.” She sighed and smiled. “Dozens of fights, refurbished and repaired a dozen more. Your hull tells a story of pain and death and tragedy, and yet you are as strong and solid as the day you left the docks.” Her hand brushed the metal of the hallway so gently I could barely detect it, the tiniest of vibrations.
I let a few moments to pass as I considered her words. “Part of that is you, Sparks. You’ve made me better in the short time you’ve been on board. Thank you.”
Sparks laughed again, and I felt as if I had accomplished a great thing. “I’ve done a few tweaks here and there, but you were a great ship before I arrived.”
’I am a greater ship for talking to you than I have ever been before’ is what I wanted to say.
Instead, I just said “Thank you” and we sat in silence for a few minutes.
* * *
We spent the next week in frequent conversation. Sparks asks me about my feelings, which is a fascinating thing to discuss since I so seldom think about them.
I ask Sparks about what it was like to be human. To go places, to see sights, to do things, and to think thoughts not devoted to war. What does honey taste like? What is the purpose of a hug? And why do people ever sing?
She sings for me, her voice stumbling through a childhood lullaby. Harmonics, imperfect though they are, echo gently through my corridors and in my memory. I have heard music before in files the crew upload to me during voyages, but the concept of why they did so made no military sense.
But now I know I would do anything to hear that song again. That silly, faltering, echoing voice stumbling through crude melodies.
Then, as was so frequently the case, the aliens ruin everything.
The alien warships are big, ugly things covered in thin antennae that makes them resemble pufferfish floating silently through the blackness. Captain Blake once stated that they didn’t fly so much as menaced in a forward direction, and I always liked that description.
The captain and I spend hours in conversation, running probabilities, weapon calculations, damage thresholds. The crew scrambles through my innards desperately, calibrating weapons, greasing servos, triple-checking rivets and fusion welds. Sparks slaps armour plating onto my hull quickly, efficiently, flawlessly, but even she knows the thickest armour in the human fleet won’t protect the crew from anything more than the most glancing blow. Still, we all have our roles: mine to destroy as many of the aliens as possible, hers to nudge survivability numbers up a fraction of a percent.
It always comes down to the cold calculus of warfare. We’re outnumbered, we’re always outnumbered, and I must inflict as much damage as possible and return to port to reload and rearm as quickly as possible. The crew is replaceable, Father has informed me, but I am not. There just isn’t time to build more ships fast enough.
Captain Blake selects the battle plan I suggest without modification. It’s hours before the closest of the alien ships will be within range, and only moments before he and the rest of the crew retreat to their armoured acceleration capsules. In a few seconds I’ll pump each of them full of anesthetic, and be alone. Captain Blake enters his capsule without comment, folding his arms across his chest as he waits for the sleep medicine to kick in.
“Goodnight, Brave,” Sparks whispers. “Good luck.”
“Sweet dreams,” I say to Sparks, pumping drugs into her through unobtrusive connections in her capsule. I wait a moment and then add “I’ll miss you.”
I know she is already asleep before I say it, though. And then the ship is dark, all internal lights and life support and gravity diverted to weapons, engines, and sensors.
The numbers don’t lie. There are always tweaks, the aliens responding along probability curves and not with the cold precision of my artificial intelligence, but biology is rarely as chaotic as it thinks it is. I skirt the edge of the vectors of their annihilation beams, I dive through accelerations that they could counter but probably won’t, I aim missiles into the blackness not where the ships are, but where they will scramble towards.
My countermeasures intercept a nuclear warhead a bit closer to me than ideal, but the probability of permanent damage to the crew is minimal. My hull is still thick, the radiation still distant.
The sky fills with blossoms of fire and plasma for an instant before the cold vacuum swallows the light and heat.
I am a sword, honed by my Father, guided by the captain, but fighting for a single engineer within my belly.
A single, fragile, unconscious human life. And for her, within the first moments of the conflict, I realize I will discard everything the captain and I agreed on.
New numbers are crunched. New projections appear and are analyzed. New vectors for my cannons, new guidance for my missiles, new thrust to my engines. In a heartbeat, everything has changed.
If I had a heart, at least. Sparks’s heartbeat is very slow right now, and she’s dreaming of something. I hope it is something comforting.
And then I hope she’s dreaming of singing to me.
Enemy munitions rake across my body, and I scream with pain. Father has programmed pain so I don’t take unnecessary risks. I momentarily wish I had teeth to grit, and return fire. There is a brief jolt of satisfaction as an annihilation beam obliterates one of the alien ships.
I upload programming to my lower functions. Things like the autopilot, sufficient to return my body to safety after the battle is over, are not housed within the quantum computer that maintains my higher functions. Life support, likewise, is kept separate for safety reasons. This is good.
The discarded battle plan involves a 84.6% chance that Sparks will not survive. A glancing blow to the port-side fusion reactor will cut power to the acceleration capsules, and the crew will be instantly reduced to paste. Acceptable, according to Father. The crew is replaceable, but there isn’t enough time to build new warships, my programming yells at me.
I throw myself into the alien vessels, beams firing wildly, a torrent of missiles streaking into the void. It is an insane vector, and only one hostile can adjust its weaponry in time.
The enemy are exploding as that single shot impacts my body. Dead centre.
My body will survive, I confirm, as my housing is cracked by the impossible energies unleashed by their cannons. My crew will survive.
Sparks will survive, and I hold that thought as cold and black seep into my sensors.
And then… darkness.
* * *
Father never saw fit to educate me on death. I’m not sure if this was to keep me from pursuing it, or because Father didn’t really think it was a thing A.I.s needed to concern themselves with.
Death is almost pleasant. Sure, that distant sense of tingling pain is annoying, but I’m sure that’s a temporary thing. And that slowly brightening light in my long range sensors that makes it hard to ignore anything else is quite vexing. Even the low, sad babble of human voices I hear is a little grating, all things considered. Now that I think about it, death actually isn’t all that pleasant.
And then, with a rushing sound, like warheads exploding in low orbit, and the smell of plasma torches, I awake.
“—should do it!” states a voice. Captain Blake, a part of me thinks. There is a distant, dull pain in my processors that makes it feel like I am… doing… something… upstream with my thoughts.
Swimming. That’s the word.
What a bizarre word.
“Brave?” whispers the sweetest, most perfect voice.
“Mhrhmum?” I respond, wires and transistors and microphones all jumbled in my mind. “Grhuannnaaahna?” I add for clarity.
“Wait, I got this,” states Captain Blake confidently. “You stay here, I need to get to Section E.”
“Blug,” I confirm. I’m trying to decide where I would go as it occurs that he likely was not speaking to me.
There is a sound of heavy footsteps echoing down a long corridor. Echoing down one of my corridors, a part of my mind clarifies.
“Oh Brave,” sighs that voice, wavering between happiness and sadness. “I thought I lost you. We all thought we lost you.”
I pause and try to piece together what is happening. I am nearly deaf, only a single internal microphone operational. I am completely blind, the connection to my sensors, both external and internal, severed.
I am alive. Everything else is comparatively immaterial, I realize.
There is the faintest tingling as a gloved hand runs across a bulkhead. Gently, ever so gently, and yet I can somehow sense it.
Captain Blake’s distant voice echoes up the corridor. “Let me know if this is any better!”
There is the sound of a sharp static discharge and I hear the colour purple for a moment.
“That was bizarre,” I slur carefully.
“That did it!” Sparks shouts happily.
“Sparks!” I declare joyfully, a particular thought finally worming its way through my fractured mind. “Your name is Sparks and you’re alive and happy and why does everything smell colourful?” There is a brief pause as more thoughts burn through my network. “Wait. Since when can I smell anything?”
“Hello, Ship,” Captain Blake has returned, and I can hear him smiling over the sound of laboured breathing. “You gave us quite a fright there.”
“Captain,” I state slowly. “Am I dreaming?”
Laughter from the two humans, and a flutter of happiness within me.
“No, Ship.” Captain Blake sounds relieved.
“But the hit to my quantum computer. There was a 1.4% chance of my survival.”
“Closer to 14% due to the extra armoured plating Sparks attached around your housing, you’ll find. But you’re still a bit of a mess. It’ll take the techs a month to get you fully operational again.”
Ah. I had failed to factor that in. “Thank you, Captain.”
There is a pause as I try to sort my jumbled thoughts out, and I sense that the Captain and Sparks share a look.
“Well, I have paperwork to fill out. Good to have you back, Ship. Take it easy until we return to dock.”
I hear his footsteps recede.
“Hey, Brave,” whispers Sparks gently. “How’s the weather?”
I dimly sense a soft impact on my hull near Sparks. Another, equally soft, followed by the tiniest of ‘splat’ sounds.
“I believe it is raining, Sparks,” I state. “Are you keeping dry?”
A chuckle, the sound of a loud sniff and a sleeve rubbed across her eyes.
“Looks like we’re both off duty for awhile, Brave,” she says, her voice tinged with both exhaustion and relief. “What would you like to do?”
My thoughts are still slow, muddied, but I know the answer to this instantly.
“Sparks, would you sing for me?” My internal sensors in the corridor flicker to life for a moment.
Her face is streaked with tears, but she smiles a small, warm smile, and leans back against me. She closes her eyes and draws a long, deep breath.
And my corridors echo with music for the rest of the journey home.
(The SFRQ Team would like to extend our condolences to MH Questus on the demise of Milly. We heart cats, too! May she romp happily in the tuna fields in the sky.)