(Fair warning: This story includes expletives, aka good old-fashioned cursing.)
The rusted hull of the ship assailed me. It was the only vessel in the space docks, and looked like something out of the Age of Exploration, long before the Collective had gained legitimacy, and well before the start of this so-called era of diplomacy, which has claimed you, Love, as a casualty.
The representative of Directorate waited quietly. He was a docile thing with dark hair and skin so nearly translucent it belonged to a newborn babe.
I stared at him. Hard. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“It’s the only available ship in the Collective’s fleet,” he said calmly, as if he’d been programmed to.
I clenched my teeth. “This piece of Collective shit belongs in the basement of a museum. It’s not good enough. If you people hadn’t manipulated the convoy manifest, I’d already be to the edge of the galaxy.”
“That token was made in error.”
Breathe. I had to command myself to breathe. “There’s a jump freighter leaving for that vector. You’ll barter my passage on that one.”
He smiled a passive simpering little smile that incited my amygdala to leak corrosive hormones into my body. My hands clenched into fists.
“We cannot. The freighter is full.” He didn’t even try to care.
“The freighter is not full. I know the captain. I saw the manifest not 45 atomic minutes ago.”
“Hmm. You are mistaken.”
I punched him then. Not once, but twice. Love, I know you would have been horrifically amused by the act, maybe not so much by the emotion behind it. I literally could not control myself.
After a couple of blinks, a little red light flared in his eyes. “System re-routed,” he said with a smile. “That will not improve your situation.”
Motherfucker wasn’t even real. It was just then I remembered Magnus. He was that cybernetic Labradoodle you brought home from one of your missions. An adorable cuddly thing, until you made me take out his hard drive.
“You’re sick,” I screamed at you from my perch on top of the dresser. Magnus was snarling and lunging at me with the exact intensity of a rabid devil.
“My Love, my life,” you said, your voice exuding the calm of an ocean at dawn. “You watched me do it. Now you do it.”
“He was docile when you took it out. Then you reprogrammed him into this maniac.” I threw a jewelry box at Magnus. He snatched it, shook it in his jaws, then release it. It exploded when it hit the wall.
“It’s all about tactic.”
I glared at you, not exactly hating you. It was those moments I hated. Whenever you came back from a mission, and I defrosted, we’d trace each other’s bodies with our fingertips, relearn the lines and contours, the texture of our skin. We’d make love over and over. In between, you’d teach me things. At first they were reasonable things, like how to clean the heads to improve a holo-projection. Then you’d have me dismantle the whole system and put it back together. Perfectly. That was when I started hating these moments. And then Magnus.
You stared into me, love in your gaze and something else I could not quite decipher. “You can do this,” you said.
I believed in myself, but you believing in me was so much more. I focused on Magnus, jumped to the bed. When he leapt after me, I shoved a pillow in his mouth, and wrapped my arm around his neck.
You handed me the knife.
I swallow back my own vomit as I cut into the dog, right along the sternum. I jammed the knife into the slot, and amid the madness, heard a tell-tale click. The dog stopped screeching, and went rigid in my arms. We worked on the program next. You made me write the code for a parallel system myself, from start to finish. By the time Magnus was whole again, you’d received your next assignment.
Before you left, you said, “I want you to do something for me.”
“Don’t go into hibernation just yet. Study. Memorize all the cybernetic lines. Where the hard drives are. The processors.” You kissed me on the forehead. “Keep the tool—”
You raised your right brow as your lips skewed to the left. “Keep the tool on you at all times. And perfect the program.”
Did you have this moment in mind?
I looked at the Directorate’s representative. “Are you a C-87?”
He blinked, confusion perturbed his brow. “I am a first-class S100.”
I tackled him, knelt on his neck and stomach. In three seconds, it was done. In three seconds, his nipple hung like the flap of a tiny door. Open. I held his essence in my fingertips. It took five minutes for the program to transfer from my All-Comm to his chip. After I reloaded it, I repaired his nipple with some skin glue, wiped away the ooze, and fixed his shirt.
He sat up, and looked from me to the ship. “I do not presume you will travel in the vessel as is.”
“Then what do you presume?”
He walked to the ship and tore off a panel of the outer haul with his baby-soft hands. “This is not part of my directive.” He looked back at me as he tossed the rusted metal at my feet. The light in his eyes flashed violet. It was the output signal of the parallel program. He tore off another piece. “But I must make the ship suitable for travel.”
Author’s note: This story is part of a non-linear narrative called “My Life as a Robot”. The idea of the Collective is credited to JTM. This story was inspired by him, and something he wrote for me in another life.