Inspired by the prompt: Use kidnap, fungus, ransom
Freska’s face underwent a series of expression changes. I didn’t understand them all, but Captain remained tense beside me. I turned my body toward his and curled into him, needing the contact. What she was doing reminded me of what I’d felt meditating with Lakshou; that connection with another being, the sharing. It wasn’t nearly as intimate as what she was doing with Danie, their whole bodies touching, parts of her actually inside him, but he’d been inside my mind too.
The difference being he’d hidden who he was from me, from us all. What I’d seen and heard of Freska was open, blunt, unable to suppress her first impulse to share or speak what was on her mind. She even gave Captain a hard time, unlike anyone but Aparoe and Deke.
An eternity passed in microseconds as her body told a story. I recognized anger and sorrow the most. Surprise, maybe? That was what wide eyes often meant, at least among humans.
I almost wanted to see Danie’s face. What was he learning about us? What did Freska know about me? “Is this sharing thing like downloading files or something?” I whispered.
“Dunno. She just knows things. Gets inside a system, learns it, and it learns her. She can work anything, and it’s like most ships are eager to link with her. Freska says she’s not unique among her kind, but I’ve never come across another like her before.”
“What is she?” I studied her, but she appeared normal.
“Not human, even if she looks it. I’m not sure what she is exactly.”
“She’s not an A.I. is she?” I whispered as faint as I could.
“No, I’m not. I bleed, and Aparoe has scanned me left and right and up and down. Aside from my circuitry here, which leads to my perfectly normal brain, I am a natural being. Just… different.”
“It’s not natural to have a brain with parts two or three times bigger than everyone else.”
Freska grinned. “It is where I come from. Almost small, in fact.” She still held on to Danie. She pulled back and looked into his eyes. “You okay?” Her fingers caressed the back of his neck below the ports.
I shivered, not able to control the sympathetic twitches. They were sensitive back there. I didn’t mind the front or sides of my neck, or even the base where it reached my neck, but right at the edge of my hair where the tiny ports bored through my scalp and into my skull, the nerves were raw.
But Danie didn’t seem to mind.
He didn’t sound fine. His voice was hoarse and rough, like he’d been shouting or weeping for hours. “What… How can you live like that? Alone? Disconnected?”
Freska dropped her hands and stepped back from him, her gentle smiling demeanor disappearing to be replaced with a serious, almost blank expression. “One gets used to it.”
“But you’re not. You keep seeking, looking for something to connect with. You’re so lonely. I thought I knew, that I was alone. But you—” He choked off the words, stopping when Freska pierced him with a fierce glare.
“I’m fine. Can I share what I found out about your past? I like to ask before I start blurting things out, if I can help it.”
“Of course.” Danie dipped his head in a shallow nod. Freska stepped back to the table and pulled out a chair, and Danie mirrored her. They sat, scooting their chairs until their arms touched. It was strange, something in Danie’s rigid posture had eased and Freska was sitting upright in her chair, leaning forward.
I watched it all with fascination. Humans—or whatever they were—had endless interactions that interested me, but the mating habits were rarely shown on vids unless they were what Deke called skin vids. Those didn’t interest me at all. But the intimacy between them was something else.
What had happened? Was it truly an exchange, like personalities or mannerism? Was it temporary?
“Danie will trust us now,” Freska said.
“Is that right?” Captain tilted his head. “And why is that?”
“Kohen. And you.”
“And you,” Danie said. He looked at Freska. “You really only want to help not use me.”
“We don’t use beings,” Captain said, drawing Danie’s attention back. “Freska said you are an A.I. No one has ever succeeded in creating a true A.I. before, a self-aware learning machine. And you’re housed in what appears to be a humanoid body. That makes you very dangerous to the wrong people. And very valuable to worse people.”
“And you’re not either of them.” Danie didn’t even hesitate. “You didn’t kidnap me to ransom me off to the highest bidder either.”
“No, we’re not space fungus. To me, you’re Danie, an autonomous being with rights to be respected, same as me, same as Kohen, same as Freska, no matter how you came into existence. And apparently, you have quite the story.”
I had to hope it wasn’t like mine.
“It was Brox, and that bottom-feeding animal Frijul was working for them. But this is bigger, so much bigger, Captain Querry. See, the rot goes all the way to the center. The wars? Distraction. Keeping the planetary alliances too busy to see what is happening with those who’ve taken up the reins at Central. Danie is a weapon, yes, and the very first successful experiment of grafting all the various alien, computer, and human parts together to create the ultimate agent.
“But they need Danie back because his body is unique—or it will be until they can clone it.”
“How do you know they don’t already have it?” I asked.
“His genetics changed after they added the alien biology. They didn’t realize how much it would alter his basic DNA.”
“How do you know?”
“Danie was still being encoded when I broke him free, but his memory was active, and has been since he went online. I saw it all.”
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