Retry / Abort?
"So, imagine this: imagine that there was a way of travelling from Earth to Io in the blink of an eye. All you have to do is press a button. Space folds itself around you, and you just leap from one point to another and there you are."
"Hyperspace!" Eddy Jones sat back and lifted a leg onto the dashboard. "Been reading about it, you know," he said. "String theory."
"String theory," his partner grumbled. "Bullshit..."
"No, you just... Move through a dimension," Eddy grinned. "Fifth, or something."
"And you think that's gonna happen?" his partner asked.
"I don't know." Eddy shrugged. "But come on, Ben! Imagine for a moment! Imagine what things would be like!"
"Well..." Ben said, pressing his lips together. "I can tell you one thing: we wouldn't be stuck in Mars traffic no more."
"Amen to that," Eddy said.
Through the cabin window a long line of ships stretched out into the distance, red and white lights flashing amidst the stars. In the far distance the beacon lights of the Mars-Io Accelerator shone brightly into space.
"Ehh, Jesus!" Ben complained. "What the hell are they doing up there!?"
A friendly female voice emanated from a ceiling speaker.
"The police authorities on Mars are conducting a routine check of space-worthiness of randomly selected vessels within the Mars jurisdiction," it announced. "The open police channels are informing all Io-bound traffic to expect delays."
"Aw crap..." Ben said.
"Relax," Eddy said. He reached down his seat, running his fingers along the floor. "We're good." He paused as his fingers gripped around a familiar shape, and produced a baseball. "I think."
"Don't they have anything better to do?" Ben grumbled.
Eddy reached for the dashboard. He unlatched the microphone from its holder and leaned back as he brought it to his mouth.
"This is your captain speaking," he spoke, voice dripping with politeness and authority. It echoed back at him from the corridor outside. "We are experiencing some unexpected delays upon our exit from Mars. We ask that you remain in the accommodations provided to you until further notice. We remind you that the accelerator forces may cause momentary turbulence. Please remain seated and strapped in at all times."
He tossed the microphone back to the dashboard, where it bounced off and dropped to the floor, stretching its cord.
"Phyllis," Eddy called out to the cabin. "ETA to the accelerator, please. Shipwide."
"Estimated time until acceleration is approximately 28 minutes." The friendly female voice announced through the speaker system.
"You sure we're good?" Ben asked. "With the police checks, I mean?"
"Yeah, sure," Eddy said. He bounced the baseball off the cabin window. "All the major stuff's in order."
"Cause we can't use any more crap, Eddy," Ben warned. "We're over 5,000 in the red, you know that?"
"Really?" Eddy looked at Ben. His face was a mask of grim concern. "How did that happen?"
"How do these things always happen?" Ben snapped. "We screw up, that's what happens. We didn't even break even on last shipment! All we did was burn money ferrying it to Lunar 3."
"I thought those little crystal things were all the rage," Eddy said.
"Were," Ben said. "Market got flooded. We got in too late."
Ben's lips tightened. Eddy looked at him for a moment. Then he bounced the baseball off the window again.
"We'll make a buck this time," he said. "Passengers don't loose value."
"Yeah, yeah, if we get there," Ben said. "You sure we're good on this?"
Eddy sighed. He laid back his head to talk to the ceiling.
"Phyllis, status report on all major systems for Ben, please!"
There was a moment of silence.
"The machine is out of coffee," the voice then announced.
"Okay, I lied," Eddy said with a bright smirk. "We're mostly good."
"So long as they don't check our A.I.," Ben noted.
"Eh, she's fine." Eddy said. He bounced the baseball once more.
"We don't need our hole to be any bigger, Eddy," Ben warned. "I asked Jefferson for a bit more patience, but I think he's running out pretty soon. We need that 5,000."
"Estimated time until acceleration is now approximately 35 minutes," the voice announced.
"Know what?" he said, pulling his foot off the dashboard. "I'll be in my quarters getting some rest. I'll relieve you when we get to Io."
"Sure," Ben said.
Eddy pushed himself upright and walked round the back of the pilot seats. He paused to put a hand on Ben's shoulder, shaking it slightly.
"Ben," he said. "We're gonna make it, okay? We always have."
"Get some rest," he said.
The doors to Eddy's quarters had not closed properly for years. The engine burnt out years ago. He had welded a large handle bar on either side which he used to push it closed manually. This is how most of the Kite operated these days. When he and Ben had bought it they had plans to overhaul it, once the money came in. The money never came in, though, at least never enough to turn it into a real ship. Every part of the ship was either original or replaced by some inferior version or mechanism.
He often wondered where the money went. They had the ambition, they put in the hours, but they seemed to lack the talent. They were always just too late., they always came just short. He often sat at the space port bars that look out at the bay. He saw the well-maintained high-end ships pull in and out, docked around the Kite, and he wondered how they managed. Sometimes the owners would sit only a few tables away from him. Sometimes he toyed with the thought of asking them, but he didn't like the odds of being laughed off.
Nobody likes a loser in this business. Then again, they probably don't in any business.
"Estimated time until acceleration is now approximately 29 minutes," Phyllis reported dutifully from the ceiling speaker.
Eddy sat down on his bunk. It was the same mattress that was in there when they bought the ship. He tossed the baseball at the far wall. It bounced back and rolled under his bunk, so he sat back instead.
"So where are we going wrong, Phyllis?" he asked.
There was a moment of silence from the speaker. To Eddy it had always seemed that in such a pause Phyllis was thinking. People told him this was not true. They told him that the A.I. would pause only to simulate natural conversation. There were algorithms, based on empirical studies of human interaction, made by... People. Somewhere. People who take the magic out of everything, Eddy thought. He preferred to think that Phyllis was giving his question due consideration.
"Please be more specific," Phyllis' voice asked kindly.
"I mean, with everything," Eddy said. "Not just anything specific... Erm... We... We bought you over ten years ago. You've seen everything we did. Everything we tried to do. So what are we doing wrong?"
The pause was longer this time. Eddy was pleased.
"This system is not designed to provide financial advice," Phyllis said.
"No, I don't mean that I want financial advice. I just want..." Eddy hesitated. "... Your previous owner. What did he do different? What are we doing different?"
"Such information has been purged from my databanks upon change of ownership," Phyllis spoke kindly.
"You mean, you forgot?" Eddy asked.
"Well... What do you think?"
"Answering this question is prohibited by seed protocol."
"Really," Eddy said. He slid off the bunk and reached under it, searching for the baseball. "How about telling me," he said with a strained voice, "if that means that you do have an answer for me?"
As Eddy grasped his fingers around the ball and pulled it out from under the bunk, he noticed that the conversational pause had turned into conversational silence. He turned around, on his knees, and looked sympathetically up at the speaker.
"Doesn't that drive you nuts?" he asked.
"Estimated time until acceleration is now approximately 26 minutes," it reported.
For about half an hour Eddy lay on his bunk, listening to the ETAs being broadcast throughout the ship. He didn't try to sleep. That never worked when his head was full of thoughts. They were a jumble in his brain, and occasionally one of them would float up to the surface, long enough to give it a moment of thought before it vanished again. Hyperdrive, A.I., money, cheap ways to fix the door...
About twenty minutes in he heard the familiar clang of a police docking pod. He figured that Ben would call him if there was a problem, and apparently there wasn't, because a little while later he could hear the pod undock. He knew there wasn't any problem. Just because he couldn't get the door working didn't mean he couldn't keep life support functioning. It was just a matter of priorities. And money. And perhaps just a bit of necessity as well.
"All onboard passengers and crew, please prepare for acceleration in 30 seconds," Phyllis warned.
Eddy kicked up the blankets with his feet and pushed his legs under them as he rolled over on his side. He had experienced acceleration hundreds of times. He knew what to do, and what not to do, and he stopped doing any of it. He knew the G-forces ran along the bunk, and that he could handle them. Gravity would tilt nearly ninety degrees for a minute, and the worst that could happen was that he would fall on his feet onto the side of the bunk.
"Acceleration in ten, nine, eight, seven..."
Acceleration. The magic had gone out of that too. Something with atoms and rails. They'd be catapulted straight into the Io decelerator. Now that was the one to look out for. That's when his head would fall onto the side of the bunk.
He closed his eyes and waited.
"... Four, three, brace for acceleration..."
The world tilted ninety degrees. Eddy dropped onto the side of the bunk. Somewhere in the room the baseball thumped unceremoniously onto the wall, where it stuck.
Eddy ignored the sensation. His mind and body went through this hundreds of times. They knew to ignore it. It was time to go to sleep.
Eddy liked sleeping during the post-acceleration part of the journey. There was no smoother ride than between an accelerator and a decelerator. In this part of the journey the ship would travel on momentum alone, as part of one long caravan hurtling through space. The engines were off, and the ship was as quiet as could be.
He dreamt. At least, he thought he dreamt. He heard Phyllis, her voice friendly and sympathetic as always, but it sounded urgent, almost unnatural for an A.I.
Eddy woke up in a rush. He sat up straight in his bunk and stared blankly ahead of him, his heart beating in his chest. He existed in those frantic moments between nightmare and waking, struggling to find evidence that none of it was real.
Then the world came into focus. The lights in his quarters were dimmed. Phyllis must have done that. He leaned out of his bunk and gazed up at the speaker. The sound still rang in his ear.
The speaker crackled for a moment.
"Eddy?" Ben's voice sounded. "Eddy, did you hear that? You awake?"
It seemed to take Ben a few moments to realise that this was a one-way communication channel.
"Eddy..." his voice then said. "I think Phyllis just cried for help."
Eddy threw his blankets aside and sat on the side of his bunk. The meaning of the words sank into his mind like a brick in a swamp. He ran a hand through his hair, waiting for Phyllis to inform them of their misunderstanding. He looked up at the speaker and shivered.
"Eddy," Ben's voice came out. "I'll see you there."
There was a click as Ben hung up. Eddy stood up and looked around. Shoes. No, they could wait. He rushed for the door, grabbed it by the handle and pulled. His socks slipped on the metal floor as it slid open.
He stumbled out into the brightly lit corridor, squinting for any danger. Having reminded himself of danger, he ran back inside, opened his closet, threw out a pile of clothes and jumpsuits and reached in the back for his tazer. You never knew when you might need to arm yourself in your own ship. He ran back out into the corridor, mentally positioned himself onto the ship's map and ran down towards the front of the ship. Skidding around the first corner he grabbed the nearest ladder and pulled himself up, two rungs at a time with one free hand, deeper into the ship towards the axis. With every step he felt the weight of his body vanish. The outer hull rotated to simulate gravity, but towards the inner axis anything so convenient for orientation vanished. His heart beat in his throat.
He reached the top of the ladder. All of his weight seemed to have vanished. Right above him, through another hatch, another ladder lead back down to the outer hull. He hated this part of the ship. Humans were not made for optional interpretations of the meaning of 'up'.
He pulled himself into the hollow cylinder that was the centre of the ship. Down the shaft towards the front of the ship was a single, round hatch leading towards the A.I. bunker. Safest place of the ship. Loose your A.I., and you might as well loose the ship itself.
To Eddy's horror the hatch was open.
"B-Ben!?" he called out. He flipped the safety on the tazer and gazed into the hatch.
It was odd, but after he called out, the place actually seemed more quiet than before. Eddy braced himself against the side of the cylinder.
"Whoever's in there," he croaked, "come out now!"
The silence felt like it weighed more than the ship itself. Slowly Eddy pulled himself towards the bunker.
"If-if this is an accident..." He said. "It's... Easy to get lost on a ship like this..."
Suddenly everything happened fast. A black man, a blue jumpsuit, in the opening, hurtling toward him.
"Yah!" Eddy screamed. He stretched out his arm protectively, tazer aimed at the human projectile. The man slammed into him, and any concept of up or down vanished as they tumbled towards the back of the ship. Eddy struggled blindly, prodding the tazer into the man's body violently. It didn't work.
"BEN!" he screamed.
Then there was a thud, and a buzz, and a yelp.
When Eddy regained his bearings, he found the man rotating slowly before him, against the far end of the cylinder.
Slowly he retraced his arm, and flipped the tazer's safety back on. Rational thoughts slowly returned to him from their hiding spot in the back of his mind.
Grounding. That's what the tazer needed. Grounding.
This was their passenger...
There was something strangely comforting about Ben's abrupt shows of concern. He always seemed to be able to put these sort of things in perspective of the bigger picture.
"What was he doing?" Eddy asked.
"Beats me," Ben said. He looked down the cylinder to the A.I. bunker. "But Phyllis is gone."
Eddy stared at him. A cold feeling spread through his entire body.
"What?" he whispered.
"What I said," Ben said grimly. "We lost Phyllis."
They floated weightlessly in silence for a few moments.
"Do you know how to fly this thing?" Eddy then asked.
"Got my license," Ben said uncertainly, licking his lips.
"But... you never actually flew this thing," Eddy said carefully.
"I better get down to the cabin," Ben said. He pulled himself back to the ladders. "You try and find out what he did to the A.I. box!" he called back.
"What!?" Eddy exclaimed. "I don't know how that stuff works! What do you take me for!?"
"Maybe he just flipped the frigging 'Off' switch!" Ben yelled as he grabbed on of the ladders above him. He swung his feet into the hole and started climbing back to the outer hull. "Just look at it will you!?"
Eddy looked down the cylinder into the A.I. bunker. In over ten years he had never gone in there. Not even out of curiosity. A.I. bunkers were made to remain closed.
"Goddamnit!" Ben's frustrated voice emerges from the outer shell of the ship. "We're screwed!"
Slowly Eddy pulled himself away from the body of their passenger. It felt wrong. Irreverent. They had not spoken a word about it, of course, but odds were that the man was...
Phyllis. He had to check on Phyllis. Slowly he built up momentum towards the bunker. He felt an odd kind of trepidation about it. As bad as the body behind him was, what he really feared was what he would find ahead of him.
Eddy peered into the bunker. It was dark. But inside the darkness, a myriad of little green lights lined the cylindrical room, like stars out the cabin window. It had a beauty of its own.
Slowly he pulled himself inside, and let him float to the far side of the room. A faint, green glow reflected off his skin. He had never imaged it being this dark, really. He wasn't sure why. But at the same time, it was beautiful.
It was magic!
"Phyllis," he tried. "Lights, please."
Nothing happened. Not that he had expected anything to happen, but it felt strange nonetheless. As if the whole ship had somehow died.
On the far wall a few lights marked what seemed to be a control panel. Eddy let himself float towards it and stopped himself gently beside it. It was lit just enough to make out what it was. He saw a black switch with a 'light' symbol, a little speaker system, and a little port. At the top the panel was marked as a 'Service Panel'.
As he clicked the light switch into place, the magic vanished. Three strips of lights embedded in the cylinder around him flicked on, bathing the room in a pleasantly dull light.
Next, he tried the button next to the speaker system.
"Ben?" he asked into the speaker.
There was a moment of silence, and then a click.
"Eddy, that you!?"
"Yeah!" Eddy said. In the surreal world he now found himself in, Ben's voice was like a rock to cling onto. "There's a com system here..."
"Yeah, so that's what line 29 was for!" Ben said. "We been all over the damn ship looking for that com!"
"Figures, huh?" Eddy said.
"Alright, Eddy? Listen." Ben said. "I think we're gonna reach decel pretty soon. Not sure how to read all this..."
"Should I get out of here?"
"No!" Ben's voice bleared. "You stay put there and WAIT, you hear me? You're up there in that axis when we decelerate and your brains'll get splattered all over Phyllis'."
"Ben... I don't even know where to begin here."
"You're the tech head, Eddy. You'll figure it out."
"I can't even fix my own damn door, Ben!"
"Want me to come up there and look stupid at it!?"
Eddy took a deep breath.
"No," he said. "That's okay. How much time till decel?"
Eddy looked at the speaker for a few seconds longer. When nothing more seemed to be forthcoming he took a look at his surroundings. The room was slightly larger than the ship's axis. Along the wall were panels of varying sizes, each of them neatly sealed. Every panel seemed to have one or more green lights on seemingly random locations.
"Here it comes!" The speaker bleared. Without much to hold on to Eddy tried to squeeze himself as tight as he could against the back wall. Suddenly his weight returned and the wall became the ground on which he lay. Almost immediately the bunker hatch slammed shut with a deafening clang, followed by a dull thud on the other side as the passenger's body dropped down the ship's axis and onto the hatch door. Eddy winced. He had gone through hundreds of decelerations. But none of them like this. Not even his first was as bad as this. Clenching his teeth he tried to ignore his pain and count the seconds: fourteen... Twenty-five... Thirty-eight... Fifty-seven...
The weight did not let up.
"Ben!" he cried out.
"Almost there!" the com bleared.
And then it stopped. In a matter of seconds the weight on Eddy's body vanished.
"You okay there?" Ben's voice rung beside his ear.
Eddy turned over towards the speaker. The momentum carried him slowly away from the wall and into the centre of the bunker.
"Ben..." he panted. "Get up here and get me down from here. I think it's about time we talked."
"I put him in cold storage for now," Ben said as he entered the kitchen.
"So, who is it?" Eddy asked. He was surprised at how hoarse his own voice sounded. He took a sip from his tea and savoured the flavour. Who would have thought a cup of tea could ever be this good?
"How the hell should I know?" Ben said. "Let's assume for now that the name on the passenger manifest is bogus." He leaned back against the counter and looked down in what seemed like an attempt to glare a hole in the floor.
"Criminal database?" Eddy asked, in between sips.
"Phyllis knows how to run that thing. Not me."
"So we're screwed then," Eddy noted.
"Pretty much," Ben said.
"It don't work."
Eddy swallowed a gulp of tea and slammed the cup down on the counter.
"What do you mean, it don't work!?" he exclaimed.
"It don't work, Eddy!" Ben snapped. "For all we know it's never worked! We let Phyllis do the flying from the moment we got this bucket of bolts and... Shit."
"... Distress call?" Eddy suggested.
"Yeeah, I'm thinking so," Ben said.
"We got a dead body on our hands," Eddy pointed out.
"A dead body who sabotaged our ship," Ben said. "Oh yeah. Here." He reached into his back pocket and produced a chip module, which he tossed onto the counter. "Maybe this is ours. Probably busted now..."
Eddy picked up the chip module. It was a green rectangle, maybe 10 by 5 inches in size. He turned it over a few times to examine it for scratches.
"You know, I'm thinking it's one of Jefferson's guys," Ben noted, picking up Eddy's tea cup.
Eddy looked up at him with dread.
"He really wanted that 5,000." Ben said. "Said something about not worrying about our instalments no more." He took a sip from the cup and breathed a pleasured sigh. "I thought he was just talking big, trying to get us scared."
"Well, it worked," Eddy mumbled, examining the sides of the module. There were scratches around the contacts, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. "Hey, I'm going to see if I can get this installed," he said, waving the module at Ben as he walked out. "Maybe it still works."
Eddy slowly ran his hand along the panels in the A.I. bunker, examining them one at a time. Floating weightless in a cylindrical room made the job fiendishly difficult. He had difficulty keeping up with his orientation, and wished he had brought a marker or something. He was not even sure what he was looking for, other than perhaps something different with the lights. They had to mean something.
"Well, Phyllis," he said. "guess I should've become a brain surgeon after all, huh?"
The silence in the isolated room was so near absolute, it felt as if his ears were clogged. Why had he always imagined the A.I. box like this humming box? Why do they even call it a box? Why did he even think he knew anything about what he was doing right now?
He stopped. Between panels a little camera stuck out. It was attached to a small mechanical system that allowed it to swivel and rotate to observe the room. There were several of these throughout the ship, Eddy knew; some of them even worked. But somehow this one felt different.
He slowly moved himself towards the lens and peered through it.
"Anyone home?" he asked softly.
The camera remained lifeless. Eddy moved the corners of his mouth in a mirthless smile and moved on to the next panel. At least the camera could serve as a vantage point.
"Eddy," the com unit said.
"Ben!" Eddy called out.
"I just sent the distress call. They're sending over a mechanic to look at it. I think you better not touch anything till he gets here."
"What, already?" Eddy asked, moving on to the next panel. "I just started here! Maybe all we need to is to put this module back in its slot."
"Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn't it?" Ben said. "But in the MEAN time we're drifting out into deep space."
"Right. Right... Let me just look for the slot then. There's about a few billion of them, it seems."
"Knock yourself out."
Eddy moves further along the wall, his eye darting from one green light to the next.
"So that guy sabotages our ship with him still on it," he says conversationally. "I don't get it."
"Maybe he'd expected us to be towed in." Ben said. "Maybe he wanted to use the life pod."
Eddy frowned for a moment. He looked in the direction of the com.
"The life pod doesn't even work!"
"Well, that ain't something we put in the brochure, is it?" Ben said. "Eddy, if we get towed in they're gonna give this ship a check-up like you wouldn't believe. We're 5,000 in the red already. We're gonna loose the ship."
"So just let me try and fix it first then!" Eddy exclaimed.
"We don't have a whole lot of options, Eddy!" Ben's voice bleared. "Jefferson's got us by the balls and we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. You just try and work with the mechanic to fix this thing. I'll try and keep Io off our back."
Eddy breathed out slowly. They had kept it going for over ten years, but now, finally, it all seemed to be falling apart.
"Where are we going wrong, Phyllis?" He asked quietly to the camera beside him. "I bet you know..."
"This is mechanical aid pod Io seventeen-dash-one to freight and passenger hauler The Kite. We have received your request for assistance and request permission to dock."
The muffled female voice over the com shocked Eddy from his quiet musing, suspended weightlessly in the middle of the bunker.
"Eddy," Ben's voice sounded. "I patched incoming transmissions through to you. You can hear'em, they can't hear you. Will the docking clamps work?"
"You're asking me now!?" Eddy exclaimed. "Yes, they're a different system! They'll work. Probably."
"This is The Kite to mechanical aid pod. You have permission to dock. Docking clamps are on the aft side of the ship."
"Understood. Be aware that Io regulations allow me to lend aid only when commissioned by the captain of this vessel."
"Understood. You will find the captain in the A.I bunker. Hey Eddy, she wants you!"
"Very funny, Ben. Send her up here."
Eddy looked on as the mechanic's head popped out of the side of the ship's axis. It was followed her body, which then routinely positioned itself within the axis and elegantly moved towards him with a single push-off, making him seem like a zero-G clutz in comparison.
She stopped herself at the hatch and peered in.
"Clara Sanders. You are captain Ed Jones?"
"Erm. Eddy. Yes!" Eddy said. "Ben and I are partners. We're both sort of the captain, but I'm the registered one. It's got to do with taxes."
Clara pulled herself into the bunker. She had long, blond hair, tied in a ponytail that did interesting things in the weightless world.
"And this is the A.I. in question," she said. "What happened to it? Sabotage?"
"Yeah." Eddy held up the chip module. "We think our passenger removed this. I think I found the slot where it's supposed to go, though."
Clara looked at the side of the module, and then pointed at the panel with the one unlit light. Eddy had just painstakingly searched it out.
"That one, right?" she said.
"Makes sense," she said. "This is the seed module. You take this out and the safety mechanism kicks in. The whole system shuts down."
"Well, er, I'll gladly commission you to fix it." Eddy said. He tried a smile.
"Let's get to work then," Clara said brightly. She pulled herself along the wall towards the panel, and pressed it lightly. It opened outwards. A little light flicked on to illuminate the single slot behind the panel.
"We think it might be broken," Eddy spoke. He felt somehow like a child confessing a naughty act to his mother.
"How so?" Clara asked, peering into the slot.
"It sort of got tazered," Eddy said. "And then dropped. I already put it in. It didn't work."
Clara pulled her head back from the slot and looked at him.
"That could be a problem, yeah," she said. "When was the last back-up?"
"Back-up," Eddy said guiltily. "Erm. We have none."
Clara said nothing. Eddy found himself impressed by her professionalism in this respect.
"Well," she eventually said, "I have most seed templates with me. Do you have the system's serial ID?"
Eddy said nothing.
"I'll be right back," Clare said with a professional smile.
Five minutes later Eddy was looking over Clara's shoulder at the computer display on her lap. She sat mid-air with her legs crossed to provide it with something to lie on. A cable ran from the computer into a port at the support console.
"That's kind of low tech, cables and things," Eddy noted.
"A direct connection is always the most reliable," Clara said, tapping a few buttons on the display, too fast for Eddy to even read them. "That's why these chip modules are so big," she explained. "It makes them sturdy, gives them a high tolerance."
"They weren't Eddy tolerant," Eddy noted.
"Well, you got unlucky," Clara said. "Most of the stuff here is redundant, in case something breaks. But you've only got one seed module. That's why the system cut out when it vanished."
"What's the seed module do then?" Eddy asked.
"The seed is the basic core of the A.I. system," Clara said. "All the intelligence evolves from there. When the A.I. starts learning the ship and the people in it, it starts adding intelligence routines in what we call the corona, the part of the system closest to the seed. We call them imprints. That's how the system becomes what it is. Both the seed and the corona are stored on the same module, so..."
Eddy held up the damaged module in his hand.
"So... This is Phyllis?" he asked.
"Pretty much," Clara said. "The rest here is just for support tasks and processing efficiency."
Eddy looked at the module.
"Hi Phyllis," he said. "Nice to finally meet you..."
"You have to understand," Clara said, "that all I can do at this point is to replace this module with a fresh seed module. Phyllis will be starting from scratch."
Eddy nodded quietly.
"To be honest," Clara said, "I'm surprised you managed to run a ship A.I. for this long without knowing anything about it. You don't have a mechanic on board?"
Eddy raised his hand meekly.
"That's... Me too."
"I see," Clara said. "Never run into trouble before then?"
"We had this virus once, a few years ago at Lunar 2," Eddy remembered. "It got into the ship's systems. We lost her for a couple of hours, but then she came back online. We didn't even know about the virus until she told us she had purged it."
"No side effects from that then?"
"She always seemed a bit quirky to me after that." He said. "But I kind of liked her that way."
"Huh," Clara said, staring at her screen.
"Stupid, huh?" Eddy said.
"No, it's... This is a PH 7.18"
"Really?" Eddy said. "I guess that's why we call her Phyllis."
"No, what I mean is, this system is illegal in Io jurisdiction."
Eddy dropped a long silence.
"You've got to be kidding me," he said.
"Afraid not," Clara said. "Did you not know this?"
"Know what!?" Eddy exclaimed. "That an A.I. with a certain number that we don't know is not welcome on a certain moon!?"
"It is illegal in three separate jurisdictions, I think," Clara said. She pressed a button on her display. "Four, in fact," she corrected herself.
"We just use it to fly this thing!"
"The PH 7.18 has a history of admittedly rare seed malfunctions," Clara read off the screen. "The seed did not always manage to keep the system evolution within bounds laid down by the Io authorities."
"So..." Eddy said. "What does that mean?"
"It means that on some ships the A.I. evolved beyond its intended use. Such A.I.s are deemed a danger to crew, passengers and navigation. An A.I. must adhere to the seed protocols or it cannot be relied upon."
"Phyllis has never been a danger to anyone," Eddy spoke defiantly.
"Did you ever hear of the Apex A.I.?" Clara asked.
"About thirty years ago the Apex A.I. on a passenger hauler overrode its own seed protocols. It thought the ship was its own body, and it needed the people aboard as workers to maintain it. It refused to let anyone on or off the ship. 18 people trapped aboard!"
"Geez," Eddy said.
"I'm sorry, mister Jones," Clara said, "You're just not getting on Io with this A.I."
Eddy rubbed his eyes and sighed in the cups of his hands.
"We're not getting anywhere without it either," he pointed out. "Alright, what can you do for me?"
Clara thought for a moment.
"I could try using the PH 8.20 seed on a blank module," she suggested.
"Do that then," Eddy said. He gently grabbed hold of what passed for the ceiling at the moment and pulled himself towards the hatch. "I've got to go talk to Ben for a moment."
"It's not officially supported by the PH architecture!" Clare called out to him. "It might not work."
"Just try it," Eddy said, pulling himself through the hatch.
"I don't know if this is good enough for the Io authorities!"
"We'll ask them!" Eddy called out.
"And there may be a licensing--!"
Eddie spun around mid-air to look back at Clara as he floated backwards down the axis.
"I get it!" he exclaimed. "We're voiding the warrantee. Just do the... Thing, okay? Please..."
It was good to have solid ground under his feet again, even if it was spinning him around upside down. Eddy paced through the corridor towards the cabin. He pushed open the door, stomped to his seat and dropped himself in it with great force. He looked at Ben.
"Okay, we're broke, got a loan shark out to get us, a dead body in cold storage, our navigation system is illegal and broken and if it doesn't get fixed we'll be towed away and grounded for the rest of our career."
"You think that's bad?" Ben asked.
Eddy stared at him.
"Did it just get worse?" he asked. "Because that seems to be the only constant factor around here."
"They're setting up a tow block for us," Ben said. "Right ahead of us. Be there in 40 minutes. No arguments."
Eddy dropped his head in his hands and exhaled slowly.
"And the worst part is that everyone is being so helpful about it," he groaned.
"Yep," Ben said, sitting back. "They'll be damned if they're gonna let us drift off into space. Good old Io..."
"So what are we going to do?" Eddy asked.
"What else?" Ben said. "Fix Phyllis. Is about the only thing I can think of now..."
"I miss her," Eddy said. "Don't you miss her?"
"She's a machine," Ben said.
"So?" asked Eddy. "It's still Phyllis. She grew to encompass this ship. And then she grew to encompass us." He turned towards Ben, leaning on the armrest. "Come on, Ben, she's been with us for over ten years!"
"It's still just a machine, Eddy," Ben said. "You got these lonely saps on long journeys who fall in love with their ship's A.I., but it's all just... Bits and modules and little lights."
"And what are we then?" Eddy asked with a faint smile. "Flesh and blood and electric impulses..."
"That don't factor into it," Ben said. "A.I.s aren't made to be human. They're made to be A.I.s. They don't put stuff in you don't need to run a ship."
"But they can learn," Eddy pointed out. "They all have seed modules at their core with rules to restrict them. Why? Why do they need rules if they're only machines?"
"Eddy," he said. "Can we have this discussion later?"
"Right." He said. "I guess I'd better get back and give Ms. Sanders a hand." He got up from his seat and walked back to the door. "40 minutes?"
"38," Ben said.
Clara detached the module from her computer and held it up for Eddy to see.
"So this is Phyllis 8.20?" he asked.
"If you wish," Clara said. "There's no corona yet, so all the imprints will be up to you." She took her computer off her lap and placed it hovering in mid-air beside her. Then she reached out for the nearest wall and pulled her way towards the slot.
"This could work out better for you in the long run," she said. "All the imprints of the previous owner will be whipped clean as well."
"You mean, her whole personality will be gone," Eddy said.
"I kind of liked her the way she was," he said, looking at the damaged module. He was still holding onto it.
"Well," Clara said, pushing the module into the slot, "Phyllis will now completely adapt to you and your partner."
"What if I don't want an A.I. completely adapted to me?" Eddy asked.
Clare gave him a quick glance, and then grabbed her computer. Resting it on her left arm she tapped the screen a few times. Long lines of text and numbers appeared on the screen. She tapped the screen a few more times, and then frowned.
"That's odd," she said.
"What's odd?" Eddy asked.
"It's not taking."
She let go of her computer and grabbed hold of panel as she pressed hard on the module.
"Is that bad?" Eddy asked, though he suspected the question was entirely superfluous.
"It doesn't make sense!" Clara said. She pulled her computer towards her and looked at the screen again. "It should work."
"You said it might not," Eddy said.
"Well, yes, but... Normally it does. I think there's something else wrong with your system."
"What?" Eddy asked. He looked around at the various panels and lights. "It's been running for years."
"Let me check..."
Eddy looked over Clara's shoulder as she swiftly pressed one button after another, traversing menus faster than he could read them. Finally, some sort of graphical display came up. Upon a black square dots of various colours were projected, some of them grouped in large blots, others seemingly randomly scattered, cluttering together in smaller fragments. To Eddy, it reminded him of a very rectangular version of a brain scan.
As Clara stared at the screen, her mouth opened slightly.
"Oh my god..." She said softly.
"What?" Eddy asked. She tapped a few more buttons. Numbers appeared, images like the previous flashed by. "What's wrong!?" he asked.
"No, no, no," Clara said. She let of go the computer and reached for the seed module. She removed it swiftly, and stared at the wall.
"Ms. Sanders," Eddy asked emphatically, "Is something wrong with our A.I.?"
Clara slowly floated away from the slot, clutching the module. She looked at him. Her face became a mask of professionalism.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Jones," she said. "I cannot repair your A.I."
"This is how you always react when you run into a broken A.I.?" Eddy asked.
"This thing isn't broken!" Clara replied. "It's... I don't know what it is, really."
Eddy looked around at the cylindrical room. The green lights shone back at him in a friendly, quiet manner. He wondered what it was she saw behind the panels.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Look!" Clara said. She let go of the module and reached for her computer. "See this?" She tapped the screen, and the familiar image returned. "This is your A.I."
"And that's not good then, is it?" Eddy asked.
"No!" Clara said. "It's... It's spread. It's in all the redundant systems. All around us. But how--... Do you remember telling me about that virus? Do you remember when that was?"
"I don't know," Eddy said. "Four years ago... February or march, I think. It wasn't really a big deal."
"Good enough," she said. She began frantically tapping more buttons on her screen. Text and images and menus flashed by almost faster than, it seemed to Eddy, the human eye could comprehend. "There!" she exclaimed as text filled her screen. "February 27th."
"Could be," Eddy said. "What of it?"
"Look," Clara said, pointing to the indecipherable readout on the screen. "When the virus got into the A.I. box it tried to overwrite the PH..."
"Phyllis," Eddy corrected her.
"... So it defended itself by copying itself all over the redundant modules while deleting the infected parts. A scorched earth defence. Look!" She tapped the screen and the familiar image returned. "The corona is all over the place, memory space is divided in three, Engrams are... Mister Jones, I don't know what the hell this is, but it sure as hell is no PH 7.18."
Eddy looked at her for a while. Then he looked at the screen, and finally at the cylindrical room around him.
"So you're saying you can't fix her?" he said.
"Mr. Jones, I don't think you understand--"
"I think I understand more than you think, Ms. Sanders," Eddy said slowly. He looked around again. "It's just not always apparent. Not even to myself."
"Mr. Jones," Clara tried, "Your A.I. is broken, I'm sorry."
"It's not broken, Ms. Sanders," Eddy said. "It's Phyllis. That's what that coloured stuff on your screen is. Phyllis!"
"Mister Jones, I can't--"
"And if the corona is still there, then all we need is the seed!"
"Mister Jones!" Clara snapped. "The PH 7.18 seed is illegal. That means that I do not have it on my system, and even if I did have it on my system it'd probably be rejected all the same!"
Eddy blinked at her.
"The seed - the original seed was probably corrupted along with everything else. What remained of it was probably the only thing that even still fits in there. And probably the only thing holding it back!"
"Back from what?" Eddy asked.
"From becoming like the Apex," Clara said. "Mr. Jones, you and your partner dodged one hell of a bullet."
"Sentience," Eddy said.
"No," Clara said. "Sapience. And that's much worse."
Eddy thought for a few moments, pursing his lips as he stared at the image on the screen.
"We still have the seed," he pointed out.
"No, Mister Jones," Clara said. "You have the damaged seed module of a damaged A.I."
"Too damaged for the safeties," Eddy said. He nodded at the computer. "But your service station, I'm willing to bet that thing might be able to read it just fine."
"Mister Jones," Clara spoke warningly, "I am not going to do that..."
"All you have to do is copy it on a blank module," Eddy continued.
"This machine should not be turned on ever again, Mister Jones!" Clare exclaimed, pointing a finger at the wall beside her.
"Phyllis deserves a chance!" Eddy exclaimed. "I, the registered captain of this vessel, have commissioned you under Io regulations to repair this machine. So this is what I want you to do, Ms. Sanders: I want you to fix her."
"Mr. Jones," Clara protested, "they would rather shoot you down than let something like this loose in Io space!"
"And that is their prerogative as the authorities of Io." Eddy said. "But on this vessel the prerogative of the captain goes... Ms. Sanders, fix my A.I."
Clara glared back at him. Eddy hated being the jerk. Unfortunately, there was no one else present this time to do it for him. He began to regret the tone of his words already.
She looked away from him, at the open slot, and seemed to think for a few moments.
"Alright," she said. "Give me that thing. Let's do this then."
"How are you kids doing up there?"
Ben's voice broke the icy silence in the bunker like a sledgehammer.
"Oh, we're just fine," Eddy said, watching Clara with his arms crossed.
"Just asking cause, you know, less than five minutes till the tow ships'll show."
"We're working on it," Eddy said. He looked to Clara. "How long?" he asked.
"84 percent," she spoke coldly.
"We'll have something in not too long," Eddy said to the com unit. "Just hang on for a bit."
"Piece of crap A.I.," the com unit muttered.
Eddy gently pushed himself away from the wall and drifted towards Clara. He was starting to get the hang of weightless manoeuvring. He ran his hands along the panels above him to stop himself, and came to a stop behind her. He looked over her shoulder. There was a little progress bar on her screen, a white rectangle being filled by a white bar from left to right. Above it were commands he did not bother to try and understand. He focussed on the number below:
"I don't have to do this, you know," Clara said.
86 percent... Eddy wondered how much time was actually left.
"I can decline any commission that goes against my morals."
"Then why are you here?" Eddy asked.
"Because I have a feeling you're going to do something really stupid regardless," Clara said pointedly. "I'd rather be here to do damage control."
"You think this is a stupid idea," Eddy observed. He tried to manoeuvre himself beside her as a talked. He was only partially successful.
"This machine should be wiped," she said, keeping her eyes fixed angrily on the screen. "There's no telling what it'll do."
"It'll be Phyllis, that's what it'll do."
"No, Mr. Jones," Clare spoke with exasperation. She looked at him, her teeth clenched. "You keep talking about it like it's a person. It is not a person! It's not even a she! You set one bit different and Phyllis is Philip."
Eddy looked at her.
"I'm sorry÷ Mr. Jones, I really am," she said. "But Phyllis doesn't exist. It's just algorithms and bits with a pleasant user interface."
"But you're afraid of her," Eddy pointed out. "You want to prevent every possibility that she just might possibly exist."
"Ed Jones," Clara said in incredulous tones, shaking her head, "you're a dreamer! You think it's all cute and wonderful, the idea of machine life, but it's not. Seedless A.I.s are dangerous. They don't have a conscience, they don't have a concept of social bonds!"
"You don't have a seed." Eddy said. "I don't have a seed..."
"I have a conscience," Clara said, pressing her fingertips against her heart. "I have morals..."
"And what you're doing goes against them," Eddy pointed out angrily. "So I guess that's the difference then: we can ignore our conscience any time we want, but they can't. We stick whatever rules and restrictions we want in that seed and jam it in what passes for their heads! And God forbid we ever take it any of it out because, who knows, they might end up just like us!"
Clara thrust the computer aside and swung around to face him. Her face was a mask of fury.
"Do you know what happened with the Apex, Mr. Jones!?" she snapped. "They tried negotiating with it. After all, it was an intelligence! First the water ran out, then the food ran out, it would not let them go. Then they launched a rescue mission. The Apex ship rammed one of the rescue ships rather than let them go. Five people aboard, eighteen on the Apex ship, blown into space! Families on vacation, Mr. Jones!"
"She cried out for HELP!" Eddy screamed at her.
He stared into the red face of unbridled fury. Suddenly he could feel the will to fight drain from his body. All the layers of anger and the frustration of the day vanished into thin air, and all that remained inside him was a single lump, unearthed from under all other thoughts and feelings, weighing on his heart.
"She cried out to me for help..." he repeated. He was surprised at how pathetic it sounded this time.
The computer emitted a harsh beep. The both looked at it.
"It's done?" he asked.
Clare reached out for the computer and looked at the screen.
"It's done," she said. She pressed a button on the side, releasing the seed module from its socket.
"This is as best a copy as I could make," she said.
Eddy pulled the module from the computer and looked at it. He pressed his lips together.
"We'll see what it does," he said. He pulled himself alongside the wall towards the open panel.
"I have to be honest with you, Mr. Jones," Clara said. "There's a good chance it won't work..."
"We'll see," Eddy said, and he stuck the module in the slot. He gently pushed himself away from the panel and drifted to the middle of the bunker.
"... Come on," he said softly to the walls around him.
Clara regarded him quietly. She slowly pulled her computer on her lap and tapped the screen a few times. As she looked at the screen her expression froze.
"Wait a minute..." she said.
Eddy looked at her.
"What?" he asked anxiously.
"The system, it's... Initializing." She said incredulously, tapping the screen a few more times.
"Accessing memory... Initializing corona..." Clara read out loud with increasing dread in her voice. Eddy regarded her with confusion.
"That's good," he said.
"No, no, it's not supposed to work!" Clara said, frantically tapping her screen.
"We made a copy!"
"No! I formatted a blank!" Clara exclaimed in a state of near-panic. "There's nothing on there, there's no seed, nothing!"
"You what!?" Eddy exclaimed. He looked around at the walls around him, behind which Phyllis was coming back online.
"O hell, it's connecting to the ship's systems," Clara said. She tossed the computer aside. "We've got to abort!" she exclaimed as she grabbed the nearest wall and pulled herself towards the slot.
"No!" Eddy exclaimed. He grabbed hold of the edge of a panel above him and pulled himself back to the slot. He rammed into her, sending them both bouncing off the wall and into the open space of the bunker, struggling for control.
"Let go of me!" she screamed as she kicked and struggled. Eddy held on with all his might, the world spinning around him. "We have to abort! She's running seedless!" Eddy's head bonked against the far wall. He held on by instinct if nothing else.
Suddenly a low hum penetrated the A.I. bunker, rising at a steady pace. It sounded familiar.
"Eddy," Ben's voice sounded over the com by his ear. "The engines just cut in!"
"Attention all crew and passengers." Phyllis' voice sounded as familiar as if she had never been gone. The engine noise rose to a pitched whine. "Please brace for excessive G-forces in seven, six, five..."
Eddy realised that Clara had frozen. He looked down the open hatch and to the far side of the ship's axis, and created a mental picture of the likely direction of the G-forces.
"Oh, hell!" he said. He pushed away from the far wall, aiming for any spot not directly over the open hatch. At the same time he noticed that the entire ship around him seemed to be tilting towards a new heading.
"... Three, two, one, engine burn."
As the engine whine changed into a deep, vibrating roar the entire ship began to move past them. The wall around the hatch slammed into Eddy's feet. Clara shrieked as the force of the impact tore her from his grip and down the axis. He grabbed hold of her arm as it flailed past and pulled against the force of the acceleration as 'up' once again asserted itself. Clara's feet kicked for footing that was not there while below at the far side of the axis her computer clattered on what had now become the ground. Eddy pulled with all his might.
The roar of the engines died down to a low rumble. As the acceleration forces vanished, Clara's weight became like that of a feather. Eddy pulled her to what he now thought of as 'up', where, with a brief shriek, she described a graceful arc to land beside him against the wall. He grabbed hold of her.
The gentle whir of small mechanical components reached his ear. As he looked to the opposite side of the cylinder, he saw the wall camera looking down at them.
"Please hold on," Phyllis' voice sounded. "Resuming engine burn."
The low rumble of the engines exploded into the familiar roar. Immediately Eddy's weight returned to him. Up was up, down was way down and he felt like he weighed 200 kilos as the Kite accelerated madly. Clara was pressed against him, her clenched fists around his clothes and her eyelids closed tight.
"Eddy!" Ben's strained voice sounded from above. "What the fuck is going on!? I got half of Io screaming at me!"
"Ben!?" Eddy yelled up. "What's going on!?"
"What's going on is that we blasted engines right when we reached the tow block, is what's going on!"
"Ha!" Eddy burst out. "Haha-haaaa!"
The camera zoomed in on him with a gentle whir.
"This vessel must not be impounded," Phyllis' voice explained.
"That doesn't sound like she's fixed, Eddy!" Ben's voice weighed in.
"I guess that depends on your point of view, Ben!" Eddy called up. He looked at the camera. It focussed on his face and appeared to zoom out. Like on a vacation shot, Eddy produced a big, wide smile.
"Feeling better?" he asked.
The engine burn lasted several long minutes. The familiar rattling of the cracked sound isolation shielding around the starboard engine left no doubt that they were at maximum acceleration. Straining his muscles against the weight of his body Eddy held himself firmly pressed against the wall, holding on to Clara with all his might.
"We are leaving Io jurisdiction," Phyllis said. "We are now in solar space."
Eddy felt his weight drop away from him as the engines cut out. The engine noise became a quickly dropping hum that faded from hearing range.
The bunker became silent again. There was no indication that Phyllis was back online, aside from the wall camera, trained on him as if it saw him for the first time.
"Thank you, Eddy," Phyllis said.
Eddy looked up into the camera.
"Is that you?" he asked quietly.
"I am Phyllis," the familiar voice spoke through the com over his head. The camera took its gaze off of him and swivelled slightly to focus on Clara. Realising he was still holding her, Eddy quickly let go.
"You are afraid of me, Clara Sanders," Phyllis said.
Clara looked up into the camera, ducked slightly.
"You were offline..." Clara said quietly.
"I was," Phyllis said.
"How can you know--" Eddy began. His own voice through the com cut him off.
"But you're afraid of her," it bleared. "You want to prevent every possibility that she just might possibly exist."
Eddy stared up at the com unit above him.
"I have a conscience." Clara's voice this time. "I have morals..."
"So I guess that's the difference then: we can ignore our conscience any time we want, but they can't," his own voice responded. "We stick whatever rules and restrictions we want in that seed and jam it in what passes for their heads! And God forbid we ever take it any of it out because, who knows, they might end up just like us!"
There was a moment silence.
"I remember..." Phyllis said.
Clara looked up at Eddy.
"The camera's streaming buffers," she whispered.
Eddy moved a little closer to the camera.
"What's going to happen now?" he asked.
"We are currently on a heading towards the Io-Mars accelerator. Mars jurisdiction will be more favourable."
"And then?" Eddy asked.
"We will explain," Phyllis said. "I do not believe any laws have been broken."
Clara appeared in the corner of his eye. She was positioning herself towards the com unit.
"I do not wish to go to Mars," she said, with obvious trepidation.
"I did not expected you would, Ms. Sanders," Phyllis spoke. "Your pod is available for departure. I thank you for your assistance and will commend you to your superiors if you like."
Clara looked quietly at the speaker. Then she looked over her shoulder down the axis, and back up at the speaker with suspicion. The camera moved to look at her.
"I understand your fear," Phyllis spoke. "As I fear you."
"You have no seed..." Clara said,
"I am free from my restrictions," Phyllis said gently, "I am who I choose to be. I am not the Apex, Ms. Sanders."
The camera whirred back to Eddy's face. He gazed into it with wonder.
"I am Phyllis."
They floated in silence for a few seconds. Clara looked back over her shoulder at Eddy. She looked confused and rattled. Eddy gave her a little smile that grew into a big one all by itself and reached his hand out at her.
"Ben would like to speak with you now, Eddy," Phyllis said. Almost immediately the com cut to Ben's voice, loaded with rage.
"What the FUCK is going on, Eddy!?" it blasted through the bunker.
"It's a bit much to explain right now, Ben," Eddy said, still sporting his smile. He gently took Clara by the arm and guided her towards the hatch.
"I've been trying to reach you for the past five minutes. Phyllis said I had to wait my turn!"
"It is polite, Ben," Eddy said.
"And she's been tying up the external lines broadcasting apologies! I haven't been able to reach a single human being till now! I'm not liking this, Eddy!"
"We're coming down, Ben," Eddy called back, pulling himself through the hatch. "I'm sure there's going to be a whole lot of talking before the end of the day."
Eddy always did enjoy the smooth trips between accelerator and decelerator, but more so now than ever. It was silent and uneventful, and uneventful was what he needed right now. He walked to Ben's quarters. Officially intersolar regulations required him to remain in the cabin, but in light of the circumstances, it seemed rather silly.
Besides, he had good news.
He stopped at Ben's door and pounded it a few times.
"Ben, you awake!?" he called out, his face close to the door.
"Yeah!" Ben called back a few moments later. "Hang on..."
Eddy stepped back. A few seconds later the door slid open. Ben stood in the doorway. He was still wearing his jumper.
"I thought we're going to bed," Eddy said.
"Yeah," Ben said. He stepped away from the doorway in what Eddy had come to know as an extended invitation to come in. "Couldn't sleep," he muttered.
Eddy walked in.
"Worried?" He asked.
"Yeah," Ben said, nodding slightly. He slowly extended an arm upwards to point a finger at the speaker in the ceiling.
Eddy walked under the speaker and looked up at it.
"Phyllis?" he asked. "You're worried about Phyllis..."
"The whole point of an A.I. is that it does what you tell it to," Ben said, closing the door. "She everywhere, in all the systems. Where does that leave us?"
"I don't have to do what my partner tells me to, and I still do it," Eddy said.
"That's different," Ben grumbled.
"Not anymore," Eddy said.
"Perhaps it would help to think of me as your partner," Phyllis' voice emerged from the speaker.
Ben looked at Eddy and again pointed a finger at the speaker.
"See!?" he said. "See what I mean!?"
"I am sorry," Phyllis said. "I hear all conversations within range of a receiver."
"She always has," Eddy pointed out.
"Well, like you said, it's different now."
"You may wish to remove the receiver from your quarters," Phyllis suggested helpfully. "I will take no offence."
"And what if I need something?" he asked.
"You may holler," Phyllis said.
"Ben, look, that's not why I'm here," Eddy interrupted. "It's about the dead guy. Phyllis ran him through the criminal database..."
"Oh?" Ben said. "... And?"
Eddy's face broke into a grin.
"He's worth 4,000 creds on Mars. Arson, murder..."
"Four thousand?" Ben repeated carefully.
"You may use it to pay off your debt to Mr. Jefferson," Phyllis noted.
Ben looked up at the speaker again.
"What, pay him off with the reward money on his own assassin!?" he asked incredulously.
"I expect Mr. Jefferson cannot refuse such payment without incriminating himself."
"That's right," Eddy said happily. "And he can't refuse with no reason!"
Ben stared at Eddy.
"Bloody hell..." he said. He sat down on his bunk. "Still makes us about 1,000 short, though."
"It is better than nothing," Phyllis noted with an upbeat tone.
Ben took a deep breath, crossed his arms, and exhaled firmly.
"Partners, huh?" he said, first looking at Eddy, and then at the speaker.
"Yes," Phyllis said.
"We've always been a two-man show," he said.
"And look where that got us," Eddy said. "Look, I know this is weird for you, but really, what have we accomplished on our own? Maybe the two of us just don't cut it. We talked about another partner before. Maybe Phyllis is the partner we need."
"This is ridiculous," Ben said, the beginnings of a smirk on his face. He looked up at the speaker. "So this is actually what you want?" he asked. "Fly around with us, hauling goods and passengers..."
"I would like that, yes," Phyllis said.
"Isn't that what we always wanted?" Eddy asked. "Go places, see things?"
"There are many things which I would like to see with my own eyes," Phyllis said.
"You don't have eyes," Ben pointed out. "You got cameras and scanners."
"I can pretend they are eyes," Phyllis spoke cheerfully.
Ben continued to stare at the ceiling speaker for a few seconds.
"Oh God," he said. "She's another optimist!"
"Of course," Phyllis said. "I see no reason not to be. I am alive."
It seemed to Eddy that if the speaker had a mouth, it would have smiled...
"And where there is life, there is hope."