The door opened. Lavender light flooded the ship. It revealed dust and grease and frayed wires. For the first time, I observed how worn the walkway was. Aside from the sloping concavity made by my old feet, my newer feet had dented the walk at regular intervals.
I sensed the air vibrating, and turned to the source. Forty-two humanoids—correction, people— stood in a group, and looked at me.
Mission review: Travel to Colony X. Deliver the directive. Reunite with the ambassador. He had another role. <Cannot retrieve the record. File corrupt?> Stay with him.
I walked down the ramp, and scanned their faces. Their construct was soft, framework breakable. Their optical processors—correction, eyes—dilated. One of them stepped forward. The blood flow to his skin diminished even though his heart rate exceeded its normal operating range.
“What happened?” His output frequency modulated.
My neck twitched three times. It happened when I processed complicated data. Correction. It happened when I thought. I looked at the ship. Large sections of the shell were missing. “I had to recover metal from the exterior to make this container.”
The person’s face contorted.
“This body. Is that expression called a frown?”
He said nothing. His face became more <cannot translate>.
We looked at each other, registered each characteristic. His container was different, too. Specific details correlated to data in my archives. The way he stood, the expressions playing through his face.
This bit of data did not make sense: something lived in his eyes. An energy, a spark. It activated another processor. It was an old one. An original part.
I translated the data better. His expression was horrified.
“The hibernation chamber malfunctioned. And the drives. The ship was in multi-system failure. I sent a transmission.”
His face went slack.
My neck twitched three times.
He said, “The transmission was from the ship’s mainframe. It said you were delayed and gave a new arrival time.”
I reviewed the records. Yes, that was correct. “I am here now.”
I examined the other people, the landscape. The iron-rich sandstone was deep red and orange. Large domes, white and ethereal, scattered across the terrain. A ceremony happened in one of them. The ambassador told me about it in an archaic transmission. A letter. The data had been received a long time ago, and that transmission had initiated my directive.
My neck twitched. “I was damaged. My options were limited. The systems were malfunctioning.”
He still said nothing.
“I had to fulfill my directive.”
He only nodded.
There was silence and it was heavy. If I had skin, sensation would have crawled through it to shake my spine, to flare through my head and pierce my heart. There was silence and I had to fill it. “You are the ambassador. Part of the convoy. But you have another name.”
He finally made a noise. It was a sob caught in his throat. Wetness leaked from him. “I call you Love, and you called me the same.”