Overture (Part One of Three)

Galactum Year 138

Jaim Somro’s life ended in the burnt, angry glare of a dying star, the ship his only companion.

The Maverick Heart hung in the fading light of the aged sun, as close to the raging shockwaves and radiation as ey could without risk, held there by constant adjustments to es drive field. Waiting for the end to finally come.

Meanwhile, the human lay small and frail on one of the couches, wrapped in a well-worn blanket, waxen skin bathed in ruddy light. Each breath the man took ever more laboured.

The ship remembered that blanket and the world it had come from in perfect detail. Ey remembered the moment the human had picked it up in the shop, remembered knowing the moment he had decided to buy it.

In the end, nothing more than time had killed the vibrant, vital man who had joined the ship a few months past his fiftieth birthday. They would spend another six decades together, until the latest advances in anti-senescence treatments could do no more. And the man had wanted to die where he had lived, in the black, lit by the light of a million stars.

The ship watched as the life of that friend ebbed away, seeing the exact instant life left the body. Fascinated, ey drilled in with the medical sensors, watching individual cells cease to function, storing the data for further study later. After the first wave of cell death, ey sent two lading drones to collect the body, directing them in the most precise, delicate motions they were capable of to wrap the blanket and secure it. When the drones were done, they lifted the body ever so gingerly and carried it back along the main corridor toward the small starboard cargo beyond the quarters where Somro had lived.

Slowing es time sense, the ship waited in the expanded solar disc of the dying star. While only hours passed in real time, for em, days passed into weeks as ey took time to mourn. The light from the dying star began to calm ever so slightly, and still the ship remained held in place by the careful maneuvering of es drive field, actions as automatic as breathing to a human. The ship disengaged es ordered memory pathways, the code which allowed it its perfect recall, and let the remembrances come randomly, freely. Ey allowed emself to feel again so many of the joys and sorrows common to any friendship, each coloured in shades specific to this relationship to this particular human. Each memory tumbled chaotically from one to the next, triggered by some aspect of the one that had come before.

I can’t spend my life calling you The Maverick Heart. It’s too many syllables. I’ll sprain my tongue. I’ll call you Vrick.

Ey had bridled at the nickname at first, having struggled so hard for es standing and independence. But the human had shown no signs of bending. It should have enraged em, but ey had somehow understood the affection underneath the human process of shortening es name.

But that was the man that Jaim Somro had been, every bit as willful as the ship emself.

You have to trust me on this. I’ve been over your specs. Your superstructure is perfect for the addition of a cargo pod rack. We can increase our capacity by a factor of ten. Have a little faith.”

Ey recalled how different it had felt once the work had completed, likening it to the sudden addition of extra limbs.

The memories came faster now, one caroming off the last, until…

It won’t be long now.

Ey had known, seeing the readings from the auto-doc before Somro’s eyes had registered the light from the display. The once deep voice had grown papery and thin,  weak with pain.

You know what I want. You understand what I’m asking you to do.

“I do,” the ship had responded. Ey had seen the med scans spike as spasms of agony coursed through his aging body and had issued a command to the thin treatment pack around the captain’s neck, sending a surge of pain control compounds into the man’s bloodstream. Es human friend would feel no pain when the end came. Ey could do that much for him.

As the drones carried Somro’s body aft, ey logged the time of death in Know-It-All, complete with a notice of pending submission of a gene-locked copy of es friend’s will and final instructions. In the cargo bay, the drones held the body delicately aloft, anchoring themselves to the decking beside the hatch. Ey was amused by how solemn and attentive they seemed, emotions far more sophisticated than their LI programming was capable of.

With a thought, ey depressurized the small hold, then negated the grav field and opened a passage in the cocoon of drive energy surrounding em. Running the calculations again, though ey knew they were perfect, ey commanded the drones in a simple thrust and release motion. Somro’s remains lifted from their grasp, framed precisely in the centre of the hatch, then drifted out into space. Nudging the body with careful application of energy from es drive field, ey sent it on a wide, decaying orbit into the heart of the giant red star. Ey monitored es friend’s long, slow final journey, keeping faithful vigil until Somro’s body burned in the outer corona of the sun.

And it is done, ey thought.

Aching from grief, ey plotted a leisurely course back to Hub, knowing there was no rush now. The journey that would have taken a mere two weeks under normal speed would take ten times that, but ey didn’t mind. Ey knew there were things to do.

Somro’s estate included specific instructions as to how his “ownership” of The Maverick Heart was to be transferred. The vessel would be passed along to Somro’s next of kin. All Vrick had to do now was find someone to take on that role. Ey knew that once ey had found the right candidate, ey could create a data trail so airtight it would never be questioned. And if it ever was, then the few lines of code buried deep in es transponder signal (accessible to only the highest levels of the Pan Galactum’s council) would make short work of that.

Ey set to work, accessing the complete roster of rated and registered spacers from Know-It-All. The first elimination was easy. All who owned other ships were removed, leaving only a slightly more manageable number. Not that ey minded. Adjustments to es time sense could extend the already long weeks of es trip much longer if ey needed more time to make the decision.

Ey continued, gradually whittling away the list of potential candidates, simultaneously slicing into Somro’s will to begin the process of altering it to fit es needs. As the list of potential companions shrank, Vrick delved ever deeper into their histories and their lives, striving to understand as much as ey could about them. Ey pored over medical histories, examining all illnesses and genetic potentialities. Those with criminal histories or disciplinary actions were examined more thoroughly to understand the circumstances motivating the incidents that had spurred the charges. Ey modified es search algorithms constantly, expanding to search non-spacers who may have the potential to pass the licensing examinations. As ey narrowed down es list, ey ran countless simulations based on the personality data ey found. To ensure ey wasn’t rushed, ey booked a long term berth at Hub’s port, ensuring that it looked as though Somro had intended to leave the ship there indefinitely.

By the third month of es long, slow journey, ey had pared down to a short list of twenty and began to closely monitor their day to day activities. All the while, ey monitored es own reactions to each in careful detail.

After a long, solitary journey, ey finally landed at the port, cycling down to a state almost like hibernation to the outside world. There, with no concern for the outside world, ey concentrated on es task, running simulation after simulation, tweaking variables constantly.

And then, one day, the final answer so perfectly clear. The personality and history compatibility probabilities calculated to a thousand decimal places.

This one.

Next: And Then There Were Two.

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