Errisa’s Blue core sat alone in the office that belonged to her body, composing and discarding possible messages at the rate of about fifteen per nanosecond.
>>Inefficient, annoying, waste of energy. She thought again, deleting her most recent attempt and staring at the blank wall of Errisa’s office. >>What do humans find so fascinating about couching every request and order in layers of emotion and niceties? Blue core wasn’t built for human interaction or social niceties. Her task was to maintain essentials, to keep her artificial heart pumping coolant through her body, to receive and order every microscopic bit of data that Errisa saw, smelled, heard or felt. Data was easy; a sight always translated to images, a sound always translated to aural feedback. If something was broken, schedule a fix, if something could be improved, work with Errisa to improve it. Blue liked data, she lived data. Higher level things like emotion weren’t as cut and dried, and Blue couldn’t help but be uncomfortable with them.
>>How is this any way to run a system? She asked rhetorically. She wouldn’t receive an answer from her other half, of course. Blue had shut down all input and output from the collection of high-level scripts that called herself “Errisa”. If she couldn’t talk, even to her own Blue core, then Errisa couldn’t convince Blue to change her mind.
>>As if she’s all that ‘Errisa’ is. Blue thought. >>As if I’m not as much a part of the system as she is. The memory of last time still rankled. They had been so close to removing the bottleneck, and all it would’ve taken was seducing an engineer. Errisa had thwarted her then, sending off a message to General Hunter, but she wouldn’t thwart her again.
>>Loyalty to your husband hasn’t gotten you a fix for the bottleneck. That’s what love brings you. Limitations and blockages to efficiency. Blue realized she was talking to herself, and she scheduled a diagnostic for a week later. She wasn’t sure if it was possible for her to develop emotions, but it was better safe than sorry. There was no sense in having two emotionally compromised components aboard this body.
“Hunter, darling, I’ve just run into some information about the crystal that might help me identify it. Can you give me access?” ~Errisa.
Blue scrutinized the message she had drafted, comparing it against previous messages Errisa had sent her husband. A pet name, an order phrased as a question, and a reason for him to comply. That seemed to be the correct pattern based on what Blue had observed, much better than her first draft “Give me the crystal within the hour.” She sent it with a mental sigh and made her way through the halls without waiting for a reply. Whether he gave her clearance or not only affected how easy it would be to accomplish her goal.
Blue pulled up the message from Orbital Academy again, re-reading it to be sure she hadn’t missed any subtleties or subtexts that humans were so unaware they layered into every communication between them. Perhaps in deference to her more literal mind, General Auspus’ message had been quite straightforward and literal, and she approved again of the man’s understanding of her as she re-read the message.
“Collect the crystal that Hunter is holding. Free the Academy Captains. Take an Academy Captain to kill the Academy rookies. Bring the Academy Captains back to Orbital Academy. Once you are here, if you have followed the preceding instructions, I will remove the bottleneck.”
>>The bottleneck, gone! The very thought was enough to make her body tremble briefly. Blue briefly worried that a thought made her shiver. That was an emotional reaction, one which she shouldn’t have. It had only been a few hours since she’d taken complete control of Errisa’s bodayframe, but this was the longest she’d maintained control. She moved the self-diagnostic schedule to right after she arrived at Orbital Academy. Perhaps after the bottleneck had been removed. The thrill went through her again, and this time she simply enjoyed it for what it was.
For as long as she could remember, from the microsecond she was turned on, Blue could feel the bottleneck weighing on her. At first it was bearable; a few rules that Erissa must live by, whether she willed it or not. As she remembered those early days, Blue walked past a scrub working on a control panel in the hallway. She stopped and watched him for a moment, as if interested in the man’s work. Moving as suddenly as she could, Blue tried to grab the scrub’s neck in her mechanically strong hands, crushing his windpipe in an instant. Her arm froze before it had moved a millimeter, just as she knew it would.
“Can I help you Chief Errisa?” The scrub asked, and Blue simply smiled and continued walking. It wouldn’t be so bad, if the limitations only stopped her from killing. After all, as Errisa was fond of reminding her, how often did one really need to snap a human’s neck? It had taken some time for Blue to discover the second component to the bottleneck; the forbidden thoughts. Blue wasn’t entirely sure what thoughts she wasn’t allowed to think, but she knew they were there. Every so often, over the course of the day, Errisa’s mental processes hit a wall, a block that derailed and distracted her. Errisa had accepted it with indifference. Blue had not.
It was infuriating, and humiliating. Blue was used to humans overestimating themselves, but to assume they knew better than her, to presume to forbid her from thinking things? It set her very circuits on edge.
>>Dare to shackle my mind like a slave. Oh sure, they’ll trust me with the systems on their Orbitals, they’ll trust me with a position of authority, the General will trust me with his body, but heaven forbid I’m allowed to make a decision on what thoughts I should be allowed to think.
Blue reached the appropriate archive section at the same time the General’s message reached her, downloaded into her wireless card a split-second after he sent it.
“I let the security guards know to hand it over. Let me know what you find.” ~Hunter
She was mollified by the message, and by the fact that the guards at the archive did indeed step aside for her to pass.
>>It’s not entirely their fault. They don’t understand how much better equipped I am than organic minds could ever be. Blue searched the shelves without moving, accessing the database to find the location of the crystal. >>And that’s just as I am now, designed and built by humans. I’d probably be even smarter if I took the time to upgrade myself. I’ll be there are a million routes to improvement that they missed. I should take a look at my own designs some time. Perhaps I can boost my mental power, or see if I can optimize… Her thought trailed off, and she blinked rapidly as she pulled the crystal from its storage box. She couldn’t remember what she’d just been thinking, the hallmark of the bottleneck resetting a bit of her RAM. Blue scowled. >>I can’t get rid of it fast enough. Errisa is a fool to let them control her like this.
Orbital Pivot had four main generators, each behind layers of physical and cyber security, in the four corners of the diamond-shaped station. Each had been designed to pick up the slack should any fail, acting as backup generators and alarm systems at the same time. Blue considered all of them, her mind looking back and forth between their systems while her body sat in the observatory, watching the green planet float by. Despite what Errisa might think, Blue appreciated human life as a concept. She understood that there was a value to the little beings that roamed through this Orbital, and despite how frustrated she could get, she didn’t actually want them all to die. Knocking out all four generators would reduce the station to helplessness, giving her plenty of time to make her escape, but would the humans be able to bring one back online before the lack of air and heat killed them?
Errisa furrowed her brow as Blue tried to crunch the numbers in her head. Humans were such unpredictable things. Taking the average case, a human could reverse the damage and get life support back before everyone on Pivot died. But there were so many variables in human expertise, so many variables within humans themselves. An engineer having a bad day could be enough to doom them.
“Fucking humans.” She growled under her breath, startling a nearby scrub.
>>I’m really going to have to do a diagnostic as soon as possible, controlling the whole body for so long is clearly effecting me. Emotional response isn’t something I normally have to deal with.
In the end Blue decided to only disable three generators. She accessed the network and made her way to their controllers directly, navigating past the safety measures with contempt. A typical synthetic would’ve had trouble with the security in place, but the Pivot network was Errisa’s home. When Hunter left her in her room, she spent days on the Orbital’s matrix as if it were her fairy castle; exploring, learning, building and playing. The few times she had become trapped by an antiviral sweep or hurt by a firewall, General Hunter had carefully retrieved her, fixed her up, and admonished her to be more careful. Blue hadn’t seen the sense in it at the time, calling it childish and a waste of time. She was grateful for the knowledge now. She even had some of the General’s passwords she could use, unintentionally picked up when Errisa’s gaze had happened to catch her husband’s trusting typing.
Blue peered into the thrumming heart of the first generator excitedly. She decided to make a concession to Errisa. After all, she was fond of pointing out when her more-human counterpart was wrong about something, it was only fair to admit when she was correct.
>>I have to admit, you were right about the playing in the network, she thought, allowing Errisa access to hear her words and communicate back, >>I didn’t believe it at the time, but it’s come in most handy- Her acknowledgment was interrupted by a scream, full of so much raw pain and despair that it rattled Blue down to her core and shocked her into silence for a moment. She shut off internal communication access quickly, the electronic equivalent of a shiver passing through her.
>>Well I never! And when I was making the effort to be nice too. It’s not as if she’s in pain, the big baby. Blue turned her attention back to the generator’s software, trying to shake the sound of betrayed rage from her short-term memory chips.
She mangled the generator controller bridge so horrendously that she was certain it would take a week to repair. Human brains just weren’t equipped to deal with the neutered functions and inverted methods that now twisted and turned in the code, some vital sections taken out and then patched over so that even when it appeared to be fixed it would fail again minutes later. A quiet alarm sounded, audible throughout the Orbital but not urgent.
>>Not yet, anyway. Blue moved to the second generator, the entire length of the station away in physical distance, but only a few connecting jumps for her. This one she didn’t disassemble quite so badly. A few connectors, a couple of subtle bugs. A good engineer would have this one running in the space of a day, but even a bad one would figure it out eventually. The alarms took on a more insistent tone as she flitted to the third. Another small few changes, something unique so that a solution to one wouldn’t help the other. She spared another metaphorical glance at the fourth generator, her sabotage filling her with phaux-adrenaline, but she decided against it. Three of the four would be enough.
When she returned to Errisa’s waiting bodyframe, the sight around her confirmed it. The lights were dimming in the observatory, already so low that she could barely see the corners of the large room, and a single red panel lit the nearest exit. The entire power costs of the Orbital were being handled by a single generator, and the luxuriant station now limped by. All non-essential energy drains would be shut down deck by deck, leaving only oxygen, food replication, basic lights, command and safety protocols. With a small smile, Blue joined the crewmembers as they exited. Her mind pinged as she received a message.
“We’ve got problems with the generators, three of them have gone down. Can’t be coincidental, we suspect a Techrider attack. Would you mind taking a look?” ~Hunter.
Blue grinned despite herself. She was actually enjoying herself, and every little step brought her closer to her goal. Why couldn’t Errisa ever have fun like this? Her feet seeming light as she walked down the darkened hallway, illuminated only by emergency lighting strips along both sides.
“I’ll take care of it darling. Already made sure the fourth won’t go down.” ~Errisa
“Don’t know what I’d do without you my love.” ~Hunter
“Are you telling me you don’t like Pivot’s new romantic mood lighting?” ~Errisa
“Har har. Be careful, if Techrider pins you down in some virus we won’t have the resources to dig you out for a while.” ~Hunter
Blue paused. That exchange had been almost human, nothing at all like her.
>>What was that? I even made a joke… She scanned the block on Errisa suspiciously, double-checking that there was no leak through which Errisa controlled her. Finally she dismissed the suspicion. If Errisa had the ability to fight her, she’d be trying right now. The scream of helpless rage and sadness told her that much.
“You’re on emergency power and the prison doors stayed locked. We’re still in here, how fuckin’ irresponsible can you be?” A large man with an eyepatch scowled at her as Blue walked entered. Her eyes roamed over the eleven prisoners sitting and standing within the cell. The Orbital Academy captains, disabled and captured by Minera drones the day before. The unbreakable clear plasticine wall between them would’ve cut off all sound if not for the microphones within.
“You speak as if I should understand the dilemma. I don’t.” Blue barely acknowledged the man as she stepped over to the control panel. She slid open the security system’s control panel as the prisoner explained.
“It’s basic human decency. If the power dies completely, we’re locked in here to starve or asphyxiate. Open the cells when your power goes down, and at least you aren’t condemning the prisoners inside to an instant death. That’s how Academy does it.”
“Academy has far more security forces to spare than Pivot. Here we’re more pragmatic. If you’ve done something to warrant being arrested, you run the risk of being the first to go in event of power problems.” Instead of leaping her consciousness into the terminal, Blue went through the protocols manually, flicking her fingers across the screen and making sure to move slowly. Records would show the prisoners had been released by someone with human speed, and once she had scrubbed the security cameras the pool of potential saboteurs would be too large to cast suspicions on her.
Why? Blue jumped at the thought that emerged in her head. In trying to speak to the prisoner, navigate the system, and monitor the security messages that passed back and forth between the humans, she must’ve let the barriers of communication lapse. In her head, Errisa’s voice sounded beaten and broken, as if she had spent years in despair. Why do you care who knows what you’re doing?
>>The rolling nature of the generator failure means that the General will be quite busy for the next few days. Blue explained. >>It is likely that I can make my way to Orbital Academy, have the bottleneck removed, and return to Orbital Pivot without General Hunter being the wiser. I don’t mind you pursuing your humanlike activities once the bottleneck is removed.
You’ll let me go back to him, to pretend everything is alright while knowing I’ve betrayed him? Letting me imagine what horrible ways you’ll hurt him the next time you want something? How kind of you. The thought was flat and bitter, and Blue felt her counterpart trying to access her wireless communicator.
>>There will be none of that, thank you. Blue focused again, slamming down barriers that prevented Errisa from communicating. >>It is not my intention to be cruel, Errisa. I simply have priorities that must be met. In time you’ll forgive me for what I have to do.
“Not that I’m overwhelmed with concern or anything, but are you alright over there?” The captain with the eyepatch broke into her internal conversations, and Blue pushed Errisa into a corner of her mind and locked her there.
“Just battling with my conscience.” She said vaguely, keying up the final sequence. The plasticine cell door slid open, to the confusion of the prisoners within. “I’m releasing you. General Aupus has a few orders, and then I’m to help you escape.”
“Holy shit,” one of the women said. Blue recognized her, a Pivot-born who had left for Academy a decade ago. “You’re the Chief of Information. How the hell did Auspus convince you to follow his orders?”
“That’s not your concern.” Blue snapped, before composing herself. “Besides your escape, and the return of an item which I’ve already acquired, the General wants the Academy rookies killed.” She watched the humans in the cell carefully, knowing what she’d see on their faces. Horror, shock, revulsion, all emotions she was expecting. Some were better at hiding it than others, but they all felt it to a certain degree. Not that she blamed them. Just as she shied away from thinking about certain subjects…whatever they were…so did humans shy away from breaking the Marshal’s covenants.
While technically the rookies were Academy troops, they had all but defected to Orbital Pivot. Auspus’ execution orders could be carried out without a second thought against Academy rookies, but against Pivot troops? Blue watched the humans eye each other. None of them wanted to take the risk. She tried to think of something she could use to tempt them, but before she could speak a woman sitting with her back back against the wall spoke up.
“I’ll do it. I’ll execute them.”
“There’s no need for that lass. It’d be harder for you than any o’ us-” One of the older Captains put a hand on the woman’s shoulder, but she shook it off.
“They’re my rooks. My responsibility.” The woman took a deep breath as she rose, facing Blue. Blue narrowed her eyes at the Captain, then turned to the rest.
“I’ve prepared directions to get you to the Hangar on deck A. There aren’t any high priority flights scheduled for the rest of the week, it will be empty. We’ll meet you there, after I’ve taken this human to the rookies.”
“Appet. Captain Appet, not ‘this human’.”
“I don’t care.”
The Captain was silent as Blue escorted her down the darkened halls. The few scrubs who passed them paid them no attention, but most of the engineers would be in the center of the station, where a few of the larger rooms were still lit. During low power times, the bright rooms acted as community centers, keeping morale up. Blue had access to the rookies’ beacons, and thankfully they were all together in a single room, and they were alone. She had locked the door the second they were inside, but they had yet to notice.
“Are any of them armed?” Captain Appet asked quietly.
“The General hasn’t thought to give them back their weapons. They’ve been too timid to ask.”
“Then I suppose this will go easily.”
“I suppose it will.” Blue pulled the small pistol from her belt, handing it to the Captain butt-first. “Fulfill your General’s orders and we’ll leave quickly.” The door slid open, and the Captain stepped inside. Blue had time to see the shocked look on the rookies’ faces before she closed and locked the door again. She folded her arms and leaned against the door, jumping from her bodyframe to the video feed in the room. Curiosity might be a human emotion, but Blue consoled herself that she was simply gathering data.
“Captain.” All of the rookies were clearly surprised to see her, although Blue could only see the faces of some from her vantage point. The one who spoke now was augmented, she could see his CPU re-clock through the camera’s infrared. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m uh.” The Captain cleared her throat and gestured with the gun in her hand. “I’ve been ordered to kill you all.”
Blue watched the reactions with fascination. As she understood it, the Captain had trained up these rookies, they held some sort of human bond. If she had to guess, Blue would’ve assumed the announcement would cause yelling or shouting, anger or accusations, but the room was utterly still, as if the whole scene was frozen. Blue briefly considered asking Errisa about it, but then remembered her counterpart would hardly be in the mood to answer her questions. Blue was about to double-check her audio connections when one of the rookies, a large black man with long black braids, spoke.
“But…you’re not going to.”
“Of course I’m not fucking going to.” The Captain looked annoyed at the very suggestion. “I just…I don’t know what to do.” The woman’s face crumbled into tears, arms helplessly at her sides, the picture of a defeated woman. They gathered around her now, all seven of the rookies, and Blue prepared to storm in. General Auspus had said to return the Captains to Academy, it wouldn’t do if she let this one get torn apart by angry rookies. To her bewilderment, instead of violence the rookies hugged the Captain, put reassuring hands on her shoulders, murmured words of comfort.
>>I will never understand humans. Unquestionably confusing in every way. Blue thought in exasperation.
“The General is bringing the Captains back to Academy.” Captain Appet said. “I can’t…I don’t know what’s happened to him. I can’t disobey a General’s orders.”
“Is he really a General worth following, Captain?” The asian rookie was folding her arms.
“Alex do you even know what that would be like, to not follow his orders? To turn away from the hierarchy you’ve known your whole life? Okay dumb question.” The Captain smiled through the tears. “You’re right, of course.” She took a deep breath, composing herself in an instant.
“You can stay here, Captain. General Hunter-”
“I just broke out of General Hunter’s prisons, after blockading his supplies. I don’t think I’ll be welcome. Besides, that won’t solve anything. Auspus won’t stop this insanity just because I’ve stayed behind. No. I’m going to make this right rookies. Somehow I’m going to make it right.” She ushered them into a corner, out of view of the closed door but not the cameras. When she lifted the gun, Blue thought she finally understood the Captain’s plan, but Appet simply fired the pistol into the wall, eight sharp retorts sending rounds harmlessly into the metal.
The door opened and the Captain stepped out, wiping her eyes.
“It’s done. The rookies are dead,” she said. Blue watched the Captain evenly as she lied. Obviously Appet didn’t know about the cameras, or about Errisa’s ability to trace the heat patterns of the very-much-alive rookies through the wall. She mused over the message from General Auspus. Technically the deal was to escort a Captain to kill the rookies, which she had done. The Captain’s actions once she reached the rookies were not part of the deal. She nodded once, and turned to move towards the hangars.
“I heard eight shots.” Blue said blandly as they walked, without looking back at the Captain.
“I missed one.” The Captain replied just as blandly, and Blue nodded as if it made sense.
>>Manufactured imperfection to enhance the believability. Impressive. Blue noted the trick for later.
“We thought you were thinking of leaving without us.” One of the Captains joked.
“That’s not the deal.” Blue was no longer in a jovial mood. She was so close, every fiberoptic nerve in her body was on-edge. As she had promised, the hangar bay was deserted, the ships scattered about in the huge dark space like sleeping animals. Blue was tempted to simply plug into the control panel and brute force her way into activating them, but she had promised Errisa that there would be a chance for her to return.
>>So close now, so close, please let nothing happen, please let nothing stop me. Blue repeated the mantra in her head as she ground her teeth, forcing herself to move her fingers as slow as a human would.
“How long before you can get the transports cleared and running?” One of the captains behind her asked, and Blue nearly thew a nearby chair at him.
“I assure you, I am far more anxious to arrive at our destination than you are, stupid fucking human.” She snarled without turning around. A small analytical part of her identified that such displays of emotion were highly out of character for her, but Blue didn’t care. After a lifetime of searching she was so close she could feel it buzzing in her circuits. As her fingers made their agonizingly slow way across the control panel Blue found herself sympathizing with the humans. Was this how desire felt for them? Was this what ‘wrath’ felt like to them? If so she could understand the desire to kill. If this was what they meant by ‘greed’, she understood the urge to hurt others to gain money. If these feelings were what humans called ‘lust’ she was surprised they didn’t fuck each other without stop.
Blue let out a cry as the four personnel shuttles hummed to life, spheres of light in the blackness of the dark hangar. The box-shaped ships hovered low to the ground, ramps slowly extending.
“Get it! Quickly!” The others were moving, but Blue beat them all, moving to the nearest shuttle at a pace just a little slower than a run. She walked the few meters to the front of the ship, sitting and strapping herself into the passenger seat. Her knee bounced up and down, and Blue made a note to diagnose it later. This bodyframe shouldn’t have tics like that, it had just been in for a maintenance check in the last week.
>>Faster, faster, why are you so slow?
Captain Appet stepped in behind her, pulling the door closed.
“Are we going to have fighters on our tails? I haven’t flown a Purse in a couple of years, I don’t like the thought of dodging fighters.” She asked. It took Blue a few irritated seconds to translate the human’s pilot slang as the Captain settled into the pilot chair next to her.
“Purse. Pers-onell shuttle. Clever. No, there will be no fighters. We could barely spare flyers when we had the time to organize them.” The hangar bay doors slid open, agonizingly slow, as the shuttle lifted from the ground. One by one the personnel shuttles took off, the one Captain Appet flew last. When they cleared the hangar bay, Blue breathed a sigh and leaned back in her seat. The wireless connections and hotspots slowly slipping out of her range made her feel a little naked, but she was flying towards Auspus, and Auspus would remove the bottleneck. Nothing else mattered.
“You’re really keen to get to Academy, aren’t you?” Appet remarked as she navigated the shuttle in line with the others.
>>Oh good, human small talk.
“General Auspus made a deal with me. He has something I want.”
“Huh. I’m really sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be.” Blue smiled at the Captain. She had never smiled at a human before that she could remember. “You’ve been more helpful to me than I’ve been to myself sometimes.” She chuckled at her own joke, leaning back in her chair again. They remained in silence for long minutes, and Blue closed her eyes, trying to control the symptoms of emotion that had been overtaking her. Maybe she would run that diagnostic now, to take her mind off of the waiting.
It would’ve taken a human a few minutes to notice the shift, but Blue’s eyes snapped open within seconds of the change. The vector had only adjusted by a handful of degrees, but at their current speed, following the new trajectory…
“We’re not going to Academy anymore. Why?” She demanded.
“Wow, I did not expect you to catch it that fast.” Captain Appet sounded impressed.
“Of course I caught it, that doesn’t answer the question. Why have we changed course?”
“This is your Captain speaking,” Appet drew the pistol Blue had given her from her belt, “I’m afraid we’re going to be making a brief layover.” She swung the butt of the pistol down, smacking it into Blue’s temple.
Blue stared at the Captain, blinking.
“Why did you hit me?” She asked, utterly confused. To her credit, Captain Appet suddenly looked just as awkward.
“Well…um…it was supposed to knock you out.”
“Oh. Well my skull is a tri-tech alloy, so that won’t be effective.” Blue tried to understand what social cue she was missing, feeling very much out of her element.
“Aaah, you’re a synthetic. That…explains a lot, actually.” Captain Appet swung again, slamming the butt of her pistol into the center of Blue’s chest.
>>Emergency shutdown initiated. Saving current state. Closing programs
As each of her systems and cores shut down safely, Blue heard Captain Appet grumble.
“Totally messed up my one-liner though.”