Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 66



“I think you have all forgotten that I am the captain of this ship,” Captain said. He stood with his arms folded behind his back while the rest of us sat at the table in the conference room. He looked at each of us in turn.

I squirmed when it was my turn, just as Freska did. His steely-eyed stare was uncomfortable when I knew I was in the wrong. Danie sat and stared, but he didn’t know better.

He’d learn—even a machine could make an error. Maybe he wouldn’t feel what we did, but Captain would make him sorry somehow if he felt the need.

“My crew gathers information and provides that to me. Then I issue orders. Then my crew follows my orders. If I am not available, then using your best judgement is expected, but I do not like being disregarded.” His last words thundered, and I hunched my shoulders. “This ship, this crew, this mission, will only succeed if we can learn how to work together.” His gaze swept the table again. “All of us.”

Captain took a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly. He pulled the chair at the head of the table back and sat slowly, his back straight. “So, let’s ensure that we move forward properly, shall we?” His words were calm, but his voice held a bit of a growl.

“I’m sorry, Captain Querry,” Freska said first. “I should have—”

He held up a hand. “You have the least blame in this. I gave you the command of this ship and a mission. You carried it out admirably. Because of you, we know things and have a plan, of sorts.”

“Yes, but I found Danie. And with my gifts, I feel I should have known what he might do. I should’ve guessed he’d try to convince someone other than me, and Kohen would be the logical answer. I could’ve anticipated and stopped the conflict from happening.”

“By that argument, I know Kohen best and should have saw that he’d try to stop Deke’s purchase and redirect our course.”

I flinched. “I’m sorry. I should have asked first, explained.”

“Yes, but then it might have been too late. Deke… we both feel the sting of being used, being fooled. But we can’t take it out on you for trying to do what you think is right.”

Captain sank back in his chair. “And maybe, if I’d been thinking more clearly and objectively, I would have seen what Kohen has seen so clearly. But I think none of us are very objective right now.” He glanced at Danie who was watching everyone with his head tilted slightly. “Not even you, our A.I. friend.”

Danie frowned. “What do you mean by that, Captain Querry?”

“You watch us, but especially Kohen. I think you have questions and needs you don’t know how to handle. You are a machine, but also a living being. You may be evolving, Danie, like Freska thinks. But you do not know how to act toward other beings. You cannot take actions such as you did with Kohen. That harmed him.”

Turning to me, Danie blinked. “I did not mean to harm you.”

I wrapped my arms around my chest. “I know.” Still, he had. He’d brought up things I didn’t want to remember, but he’d also helped. “But you also prompted memories I’d forgotten.” I looked to Captain and he must have understood, giving me a nod. I explained about our course change, what I remembered about the Elite I’d been tasked to kill but failed.

“So, you think this one might be able to help us?” Freska tapped her fingers on the table.

“Maybe. If we can find him.”

“If that’s what the Captain orders,” Freska looked at him, waiting for his nod, “then I can make that happen.” She grinned and wiggled her fingers when I asked her how. “Oh, just a little skill. Gotta know how to ask the questions.”



Captain and I stood in the command center as we orbited the planet in the far-reaches of the Elite’s galaxy, just out of sensor range of the satellites ringing the giant. I shouldn’t have doubted Freska. As soon as we got into range, she’d used the ship’s A.I. system to slip into the planet’s network like a ghost.

We now knew even more about the Elite than even his parent probably did. If they had parents. Maybe they were cloned. They certainly liked their medical technology.

“Shuttle?” Deke asked. “We’ll never get the whole ship down there unannounced.”

The city Anyas Ober-Candro lived in was small. It boasted a spaceport, but only that didn’t see many full-sized ships other than scheduled supply runs or passage liners.

“I rigged it to bounce their sensors.” Freska stood beside the navigation console.

“Even with their advanced technology?”

“You know they almost exclusively use A.I.s to run their systems?” she asked. “Apparently their condescension isn’t exclusive toward humans. They look down on all beings, even the ones they program to be like them. All I had to do was treat the A.I.s like they were worthy of being treated, and I was given the keys to the kingdom.” Freska didn’t look gleeful like she’d sounded that one time on the comms. She sounded angry.

“Maybe we can teach them a few lessons,” Deke promised. He caressed the weapon at his right, but he bristled with them.

“Let’s go.” Captain turned to lead the way and Freska, Danie, Deke and I followed. Aparoe sent a large kit, and there was a team of security waiting by the shuttle, almost as well armed as Deke. One had combat medic training they’d refreshed with Aparoe on the last leg, just in case. Captain was covering all possibilities.

He turned to me when we sat, sliding his hand across the back of my neck, pressing our foreheads together. “Stay safe,” he whispered. “I need you.”

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 65



“What did you do, Kohen?” Captain stood, approaching the navigation console and looking at the screen. He frowned. “You know I can override this lock out. It’s a maintenance code.”

“I know.” I shook my head once, tilting it. “Did you really think I would try to stop you?”

Captain turned slowly without changing out heading, even though we were going to jump soon if he didn’t. “I don’t know. You’re not acting like yourself, and that bothers me. Especially after… what happened.” He glanced around.

“The supply run is not safe. Deke doesn’t need those guns.” I shot him a look. “We have enough ordinance on board, and we have foodstuffs and the medical supplies Aparoe wanted.”

“Why wouldn’t you ask me first?” He gestured toward the console, ignoring the shocked stares of the crew in the command center.

“Can you honestly say you would have listened to me?” I crossed my arms over my chest. “All you keep saying is that I need to rest. You are treating me like a victim again. Well I’m not!” I insisted. My hands curled into fists and I leaned forward to invade his space. “Will you ever stop trying to protect me?”

“No, Kohen, I won’t. What… he did.” Captain’s lips shook, then he firmed his jaw as he took a breath. “I wouldn’t let that go, not for any of my crew. But this is different.” He glanced at my head.

“I did this. This isn’t something that was shoved in my head my someone else.” I’d had that fear for a long time, but my mind was my own. Yes, Danie had invaded it, but I knew what was his memories and what were mine.

But it also gave me a unique insight, and when we sat there, I’d been studying the star charts on the overhead Nav screen. The one with our next leg of the journey had shown the galaxy where we’d planned to go based on the symbol. A planet smack dab in the prime habitable zone with several satellites around it was the focal point.

But there was someone I’d met once… a test I’d failed. I thought it was because I’d given in to the comfort he’d offered, the touch. I thought they were simulations, visions stuffed into my brain through the wires they’d attach.

Not just that I’d failed to kill him. But now, with what I’d realized they’d really been making me do. Everything in my file had said one thing, but the truth of the Elite’s plan was another altogether. They weren’t trying to give me an aversion to touch to alter my sexuality; they were programming me to dehumanize me while altering my brain and body.

I’d been a failure, in more ways than one.

The being I’d seduced wasn’t an easy mark. From a dark world, the ebony skinned man had sought out my pale body to enjoy but as he curled around me afterward, he recognized me for what I was. Before he’d escaped, he’d told me about his world, explained how the sparkling glimmers of the glowcers would shine on me and turn my milky skin to scintillating brilliance in the low-light of his world barely lit by the elemental beings.

One of Danie’s memories was of Elites with glowcers, their dark skin matching that of my target’s.

And only one planet in that system matched the muttered pillow-talk that had captivated me and made me fail to even try to attack the being I’d been ordered to kill.

Surely if the Elite was a target of those who’d tried to alter my mind and turn me into an A.I. then he would be an ally. If we could find him. If he hadn’t been killed by someone else. But it was better odds than getting a damn planet-killer and keeping it on board like Deke wanted.

Then again, by the looks Captain and Deke gave me, maybe I should have explained why I wanted to avoid making that supply stop and jump ahead in the journey with a slight detour before I made the change. It might have been better to ask first.

Of course Deke nearly drooled when he viewed the specs of the weapon as he contacted the seller, so keeping him off that planet might be better for all of our health.

We were at a standoff. I had information I needed to share to make him understand, and it was hard to not be able to just tell Captain what I knew and have him know this was the right course.

I opened my eyes wide, and I gasped.

“Kohen?”

“This is what Danie faced. He couldn’t figure out another way to convince you. I was his only hope. Now I’m facing the exact same thing.” I let out a sharp bark of laughter. “How do I share with you what’s in my head, what I know is true, and get you to believe me?”

Captain stepped close. “Talk to me,” he said quietly. He glanced at the console. “Before you do stuff like this in front of the crew.”

“If we don’t go now, we might lose the chance. I don’t know if he’s still alive, but the Elites have to know something is up. We’ve taken some of their men, Danie is gone, and we have a limited window before they realize that. But we will need allies. More knowledge, more people.”

“And you think we’ll find it there?”

“I think so.”

“Captain Querry, we had a—”

“Deke, I am sure you can cobble something more than deadly enough together to replace your weapon. Talk to Freska; I’m sure she knows every inch of the ship and her components.”

“You want me to release her?”

Captain considered me. He unlocked Navigation. “Keep us on our current heading,” he ordered the crew. “Deke, get Freska and Danie. I think it’s time we all sit down again.”

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 64



“Kohen, are you up to talking?” Captain was still holding me. His hand was gentle on my head and neck as he stroked me and rested his hands on my skin, letting me absorb his warmth.

“How’d you know I was awake?” I asked.

“I could sense it. Like I know how much you like this.” He had his hands wrapped around my neck from behind, his palms against the sides of my neck and across the bare skin of my shoulders. His thumbs stroked up and down the knobs of my spine on the back of my neck but stopped short of the ports in my head.

“You’re so warm.” I groaned, tilting my head forward when he dug his thumbs in, and then sighed. “He really wasn’t trying to attack me, or you through me. I think he honestly thought it was the best way to share his truth in a way that I would have to believe.”

“He invaded your mind.” Captain growled.

“And allowed me to invade his.” And here I was, forced to use that unique insight to actual defend him even though I was still pissed and hurt and—yes—violated by the way he’d done it. “Danie appears human, but he’s an A.I. He can’t be judged by our sensibilities. Honestly, it’s best to view him by alien standards; he has a completely different genetic make-up based on what’s inside his body. Add in he was brought online instead of growing into a being in a society in any sense of the word.

“We are actually more alike than I want to remember. When I’d shut down because I’d existed in my lonely world of my cell without contact with other beings, I’d been nearly as alone as he had. Danie doesn’t understand what he did to me as wrong—to him, it was logical. It had the highest probability of success for creating a bridge of understanding because I had to believe what I saw and heard and felt for myself inside his mind.”

I turned in Captain’s arms. I tucked one hand under my head but stroked my other hand over his chest, cupping his pec and thumbing his nipple. I smiled a little when it tensed and he took in a quick breath, then moved my touches across the strong caps of his shoulder and up his neck. “Did you know that we have the same signature, Danie says? Like the exact same person in two bodies.” I touched the synthgar curled behind his neck, and it opened its eyes. They glowed briefly, then it curled tighter and went back to sleep. “I think it’s partly this guy.”

“Just partly?”

“We were already getting close before you offered him to me with the bond. Weren’t we?” I asked, suddenly not quite sure.

“We were,” Captain assured me, brushing his fingertips gently over my cheek. “And I need to work harder, if you’re not sure of that.”

“Oh, good.” How’d we get on this conversation? “We’ve had a lot going on.”

Captain sort of huffed and chuckled at the same time. “That is very true. And every time I turn around, you’re discovering something vital, or rescuing someone, or revealing some secret plot just in the nick of time. You’re an overachiever.”

“I’ll try to stop,” I said.

“Maybe after you singlehandedly pull off this mission like we’re all waiting for you to do. Then we’ll take a break, if you’re still up to retiring with this old guy.” Captain inched closer.

“I’d love to.”

“Good.” Captain said the word on a quiet breath against my lips, then claimed them in a kiss. By the time he’d finished caressing my mouth with gentle pecks and soft strokes, I was a puddle on the bed and actual fell asleep.



“On approach. Captain, are you sure I should be….” The crew member at the navigation station looked nervous.

“You’re fine. The ship likes you just fine.”

The look on her face was skeptical. “Not as much as she likes Freska,” she muttered.

“It’s another supplies run. Just set the ship down, Supply will arrange for the transfer, and Security will keep us safe.”

Captain had objected to me leaving our quarters, insisting I needed more rest, but I wanted to stay close to him. I’d spent ages alone in my cell, not really knowing if the times the doctors and scientists from Brox released me and used the programming in my head to force me to do things were real tests or simulations, but it had all been for a purpose.

I knew more now, saw the truth behind Freska’s report on Danie’s memories, and knew the Elites were behind everything. It was so damn predictable it was almost pathetic. Power-corrupted beings seeking more power ruins lives of those who have none.

But this snake was so much bigger and more complex than we’d thought.

“Allies. We need allies,” I muttered.

“What, Kohen?” Captain turned, but I’d already pushed navigation out of the way. My hands flew on the console and star charts appeared and lit up. The ship reversed direction and began to pull out of the galaxy we’d entered.

That symbol I’d seen echoed in the star charts was burned in my brain, but instead of the center star where we’d planned to approach, I’d plotted a course to one out of the way on the outer rim, even farther out.

“We need to go here,” I said.

Deke was hovering near me. “Captain?”

“Kohen, what did you just do?” Captain asked.

“This is bigger and more complex than even we know. We need to go here to find allies,” I said.

“What makes you think that?”

“I just know.”

“Do you? How?” Deke asked.

“Kohen, I need you step away from Navigation. We have supplies to pick up. We have a plan I already ordered.” Captain stood.

I moved away from the console. Deke stepped closer to it. He tapped the console then turned. “It’s locked out.”

TBC
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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 63



Danie’s invasion into my brain was neither painless nor left me unaware of his foreign presence. Unlike the link with Captain, this wasn’t welcome. I couldn’t stop it, just like all those other times. Like a vid that I couldn’t stop watching, my past flashed through my mind. I knew Danie was in there, seeing it too, and that pissed me off.

But then something new happened. When my anger flared, my mind latched onto Danie’s. The connection between us went both ways, and as he saw my past, I saw his. The history Freska had mentioned before he was officially switched on was horrific to experience. I’d tried to shut down my feelings, to become a robot doing only what they ordered me to do, but I’d done that on my own to survive.

Danie hadn’t had a consciousness, if that’s what was what made an A.I. actually become an artificial intelligence that was aware and everything. He’d been a shell that had basic commands and functions, and the beings around him treated him as such.

But that kernel inside him had already been growing, unbeknownst to them, so it was a true form of Hell. Or maybe that was just because I knew he was in there as they did… things to him.

My throat burned with the scream that burst out of me when Danie’s connection was yanked out of the port’s in my neck. I collapsed to my knees, one hand against the wall, and vomited.

Those memories weren’t mine, and I didn’t want them. My hand shook, and I panted, desperately trying to blink through the flood of tears streaming down my face and obscuring my vision.

“—shouldn’t kill you now?”

“I wasn’t trying to hurt him.”

“You did. He didn’t do anything to you. Why did you attack him?”

“It wasn’t an attack. I was attempting to connect so he would know the truth. So you would know the truth.”

I looked up. Captain had a weapon drawn and pointed at Danie. Freska was standing in the corridor staring at us with her mouth open and her eyes wide.

“You were inside my head, my memories,” I rasped. I shook, disgusted by the mess at my feet. I lurched upright.

Captain caught me as I stumbled, the hand holding the weapon on Danie not even wavering.

“The bond goes both ways; I wasn’t trying to read your memories and past, but there was some crossover that was unavoidable. I am sorry.” Danie looked fine, not even sick, and that pissed me off.

“How could you do that to me?” I’d never really thought the ports would make me vulnerable; not like that, not here. I put a hand over them.


Danie cocked his head. “You don’t trust me. You think I’m going to do something to hurt you, or this ship, or the mission against the Elites. Don’t think I didn’t catch the subtext of your body language and comments.”

Captain narrowed his eyes. “And this attack was your way to make us change our minds?”

“It wasn’t an attack, I already said that.” Danie turned toward Freska, and Captain’s arm lifted slightly. “Tell them I wouldn’t do that.”

“Danie, stay still and stop moving for space’s sake. Captain, I know you are scared because Kohen was scared. Please stay calm.” Freska spoke softly, and she didn’t move toward us. “But he’s okay. Danie wasn’t trying to hurt him. Linking is just shocking at first and hard to control.”

“I would never hurt Kohen. He’s like… family. The closest I may ever have.” Danie shook his head. “I just wanted him to understand.”

“I know, Danie, I know. Just stay still, okay?”

“Kohen, think back over the time you were with Danie. You were experiencing either your memories or his, right? There are no blank spaces or times?”

“What does that mean?” It’d been like a flood of images from both of us. Blank spaces and times? “Nothing felt blank.”

“Your brain is comprised of partial electronic parts. Those times you recall from your past being fuzzy, or blank, that you said you went away in? Those were times they were programming you. I know you have fears that Danie might have done something like that to me or you. But there are no blank spots in my time with him, which I can prove if I have to do a download, and I’m sure if you review what just happened, you’ll realize you don’t either. He didn’t do anything to you; he was just trying to share with you.”

“I can’t…” I shook my head. It was starting to throb, and my mouth tasted foul. “I want to go back to our quarters.”

“Okay, Kohen, okay.” Captain stroked his hand up and down my arm, holding me close. “Kohen, hit my communicator please.” I did what he asked, not caring to ask why. “Deke, I need you.”

“Captain!” Freska finally took a step inside the observation room.

“No. This might have been an attempt to get us to trust him, but it was a fail. I won’t harm him, but he won’t have a chance to do it again. He will be kept away from Kohen.”

Deke jogged into the room, his weapon also out and at the ready. “What is it, Captain?”

“Take Danie and Freska to their quarters, please. They are to stay there until further notice.”

“Captain Querry, our mission….”

“No, Freska. I don’t want to hear it. Not from you.” He waited for Deke to usher Danie and Freska out, then he finally put his weapon away. Cupping my face, Captain stroked my cheeks. “Are you okay?” He studied my face, his gaze drilling into me.

I put my hands over his. “I don’t know.” My head ached. “Can we go lay down?”
“Yes, of course.” Captain led me to our quarters, stripped me, and cradled me against his body in the bed. He stroked my forehead. “Try to relax.” 

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 62




Danie approached me. I put down my fork, suddenly not as hungry as I’d been before. “Hello,” the A.I. said.

I nodded to him briefly, chewing the bite in my mouth. “Hello,” I said politely when I could finally swallow. I had to wash it down, and still it felt like a lump stuck in my throat. “What are you doing here?” That came out harsher than I intended.

“Just getting something to eat.” Danie shrugged and glanced away. “Sorry I bothered you.”

“No, I’m sorry.” I was being rude. “I didn’t mean to say it that way. I just was wondering why you were in the com if you’re an A.I. and stuff.”

“Still housed in a human body,” he said. He rubbed his belly. “It gets hungry.”

“Oh. Well, sit down.” I didn’t actually want him to sit down with me, but where else was he gonna sit? He didn’t know anyone else. Could an A.I. be uncomfortable in social situations? I was, but I knew enough of the crew to nod and say hello, mostly because of my work with Luca and Priella. Captain didn’t have to hold my hand the whole time.

I picked at my meal while Danie ate methodically. When his plate was empty, he set down his silverware and let out a breath. “That was interesting. Food flavors are so different.”

“They are. I remember some things, from before. Not much because I grew up on a really poor planet. We didn’t have much.”

“You remember growing up?” Danie leaned forward. “What was that like?”

“Um,” I said, scrunching my forehead. “Like anything else I guess.” How did someone explain growing up? “I was small, then I wasn’t? I was free, then my parents sold me? I rubbed my arms. “The memories aren’t great. I don’t like to think about it.”

“Oh, I see. I do not know how old this body is, if it grew up or not. The memories I have start when my mind came online, though Freska found things from before that time. I was able to access them once she did.”

And that was part of what freaked me out. What if there was more she hadn’t accessed? What if he’d been online longer than we knew?

What if Danie wasn’t the victim Freska thought he was, and he was a danger to the crew, to Captain?

“That would be disturbing. I know remembering my past took time. Be patient. Maybe look up meditation techniques. Those helped me.” I pushed away who’d helped me with them and focused on the good they actually did. “There are some good vids that explain the process.”

“You won’t teach me?”

I blinked, startled. “You want me to?”

“Do you do this meditation?”

“Yes.”

“We are a lot alike, Freska says. She said I should try to get to know you. That you could help me.” Danie cocked his head. “But you don’t seem like you wish to.”

Maybe honesty was the best policy. “I don’t know if we can trust you. You are an unknown. I worry about what they might have done to me, programming and changing with my brain. You have even more parts that could be used against us.”

“I wouldn’t hurt Freska,” Danie said.

Uh-huh. I raised an eyebrow. “Just Freska?”

Danie rubbed his chest. “She’s… she’s in here. I don’t know how to explain it. When I think about it, about anything happening to her, it changes. My heart speeds up and my breath speeds up. I have a physiological response to a mental thought. It is strange.”

“That’s called nerves. Emotion.” So apparently he did have some, but he was even more disconnected from his than I was. “Why did you stare at Captain and me before?”

“You share a signature. All beings have one, and there are infinitesimally small changes to each one making them unique. But yours are so similar, I cannot find any differences. You are like one being with two forms, even when it’s clear you are not one being. It is a puzzle.”

And computers loved puzzles. Maybe there wasn’t something bad behind the way Danie stared at Captain. Maybe he wasn’t a spy.

Maybe.

“Let’s go for a walk.” I needed to move after eating. We took care of our dishes, ducking past a few crew members coming in to eat just as we were leaving.

“Hey, Kohen. Captain said he’d be off shift soon.” One of the crew must have just come from the bridge.

“Oh, um, thanks.” I couldn’t remember their name, but the bristly alien didn’t seem to notice and kept walking with the others after it delivered the message.

“Do you need to leave?” Danie asked.

“No. I’m fine.” Captain had left me to go confer with the crew for all the stops we needed to finish making. We’d already made two, taking on new gear and supplies. The next stop was apparently for modifications to the ship, which had Freska on edge and needing his reassurance. Before he left, we’d been very close, and the synthgar had left its place and wallowed in our mixed essences, touching both our skin as Captain held me close.

Somehow, our bond just kept growing stronger. Sometimes I thought I caught a flash of what he was thinking, feeling, even when we were apart.

“Can we stop here? I like to look out,” Danie said when we came to an alcove with a viewport.

“Sure.” It was quiet, the corridor not widely used between shift changes. “What do you and Freska think I can do to help you?”

“Well, this, for starters.” Danie’s hands clamped down on my shoulders, and one of his fingers slid open, revealing parts just like Freska’s. The tendrils snaked from his fingertips to the ports on the back of my skull before I could shout, piercing my bone and entering the brain to take control.

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