“He knew a matrilineal ancestor of yours,” they said. “Someone who used the same forename and shares to a remarkable degree your gen-profile. Someone who was important to him, one of the initial workers on the Station. He is insane —because any millennial cyborg, after all that radiation and interface bleeding must be insane— and he has come back to find her.”
“Why?” I asked.
“As I said, he ‘loved’ her.”
“’Cyborgs don’t experience love,’” I heard myself quoting.
“This was from before. His first assignment as captain was to take the ship out into the galaxy from this very Station, this very Lock, when it had only five hundred citizens. Its brief maiden voyage, one without other human occupants. He was here, Memory says, for two weeks before he did that and must have met and spent emotionally and physically intimate time with her then...He was human, a trained pilot, and still a discreet human body. He must have gotten lost, the ship malfunctioned, communications failed, and the ship kept him alive by taking that discreet body and making it something else...a part of it.”
I tried to imagine what it must have been like and could not. No one on the Station could. No one would ever be able to, I knew.
“Did you tell him she isn’t here?” I asked quietly.
“Yes, but he insists that she is.”
“Because he has scanned us, too. He has scanned the Station, and he has found here a genetic profile he believes is hers. You must have realized by now —by our calling you for this meeting— whose profile that is.”
“I do not wish to do this,” I said quickly.
“You are afraid,” the Protocol deputy answered, her broad face so much like mine.
Yes,” I said.
“We cannot indulge your fear. You must do this for others. For the Station.”
When I saw that I did not have a choice —that we never really had a choice on the Station— I felt something different. Something new.
I have often wondered whether human beings, still the children of that evolution, need love of a more ancient kind in the circumstances we have made for ourselves so far from our planet of origin. I do not have the answer for this, and the scientists on this Station seem unable to provide the answers, though I have asked many times. I have, in fact, recently been told by my work supervisor in Health Services to stop asking. “Constant questioning may reveal a dissatisfaction with your identity and service to the Station’s operations,” she informed me. “I do not want to have to send you for testing. That would reflect badly on us all.”
I understood what she was saying. It had happened before, and I’d been warned. I was unhappy, and all the scientists could say was that it was “genetic,” a “coded proclivity,” perhaps Station inbreeding, and not “situationally determined.” It could not be fixed, they were saying, and I could not argue. They had prescribed medications —the psychotropics many of us take on the Station— but these had made me feel nothing, as if I were not alive, and I had stopped them without confessing it. Some do not mind that feeling. It may help them. But I did not want to feel that way.
I can remember being unhappy when I was little, when my caregivers would use the word “discontent,” and even the toys —the miniature plastic Station and miniature Lock and the little figures of a medical assistant (what I would become someday, they insisted) and her professional colleagues and sexual partners (all in a plastic clinic you could carry in your arms)— did not bring me joy, though later I would argue with the assignation, to no avail. When I was eight, I had a friend, a girl, who made me laugh, and that made me happy. But we were separated when the relationship analysts determined that I’d become “too attached,” and my assigned parents agreed.
“Let me look at you, Sidha,” the voice booms. I let it.
“Don’t move,” a staff member has whispered beside me. “Let him see you.”
“You do not look the same, Sidha,” the voice says at last. Is it disappointment I hear, or do I imagine it?
I want to ask him what she looked like, and why I look different to him. Is it my height (I am short, too, by the Station’s average)? My skin? We are all the same color basically on the Station, with only occasional regressions. My face, its features? The shape of my head? It is round, and perhaps was not.
I don’t ask him because he is saying:
“You are older. But you are still my Sidha.”
What does he see with his ship’s sensors that I cannot see in the mirrors of my unit?
A sharp look from a staff member is meant to remind me how insane the captain is.
“We were together for only two Station weeks, Sidha,” the ship is telling me. “Not long enough for two people in love. Would you like to join me on my next mission? We will be going to ‘The Goblin,’ to 2015 TG387, which should have been visited long ago. I’m not sure why it wasn’t, but your Station’s records show it unexplored, and what an insult that is, wouldn’t you say? There is a berth near mine. You can sleep there, my Sidha.”
Did I expect to feel at least something from his words? Do I feel something? Is it simply curiosity, that ancient impulse, or something else— something that can make you spend hours in Station Memory?
Is insanity contagious? Is there something in the conditioned air of this ship that is making me feel what I would not, were I sane, feel?
“Tell him ‘no,’” the staff member whispers at my side. “We must end the meeting but keep you available to him so that the scientists and technicians can continue to study the anomaly.”
Would the pilot and the ship he has become allow me to leave?
The staff member guesses my thought:
“The Station will override any objection from him.”
I am quiet for a while, and then, instead of a “no,” I say:
“Yes. I will go with you, Captain.” That is what the first Sidha, the one he knew, would say— the woman I am to him.
The staff member nearest me, in his clean smock, steps back, shocked. The other members stiffen, looking at each other, trying to decide what to do. It has taken them completely by surprise, but they are not Security. They are not trained in physical restraint.
“They are trying to override your self-protections, Captain,” I announce loudly, not knowing the right words to say it.
A Protocol member has grabbed me by the arm, and I do not struggle at first.
“I know what they are trying to do, Sidha,” the captain’s voice booms. “They will fail.”
“I will go to your L-15-2002,” I hear myself say quickly, and the member who has my arm lets go in disbelief.
As I waited for this meeting, I found the Highland Class A blueprints. They were easy enough to locate in an information system stretching back thirteen hundred years, one of the Station’s prides. I knew, because it was logical, that, despite the changes to its hull made by assaults of objects in space and the repair work done by the nanomechs, the ship’s interior structure would probably be unchanged.
“They cannot stop us this time, Sidha,” the voice booms. “You wanted to come with me. You fought to come with me. But they beat us. They drugged you and locked me in my ship. They made me go. I pray that you have forgiven me for not fighting harder. They made me leave you, Sidha, to a life on this Station, and I have not forgotten. I will never forget.”
I found nothing about any of this in the system. Why would I? It was personal, a discrete body’s life and feelings. That is not what the Station’s computers hold.
I jerk away from the Protocol member, who, despite lack of training, has grabbed me again, and I avoid the hands of others as I run from the bridge into a passageway, then into another, and another, bootsteps behind me.
“Take the next one,” the ship’s voice whispers, and I do. The bootsteps begin to fade. I am breathing again.
The ship has started to shake. It is, I know, getting ready to jump. Will the Lock let it?
“Yes,” the voice whispers, as if we are together already, our bodies the ship, my thoughts his, and his mine.
The starlock must let him leave, I realize. It must help him jump. If he were to destroy the ship in the Lock, the Station would be destroyed with it, and everyone would die. How can one Station citizen, a useless ancient ship, an insane captain and a single burst of energy from the tokomaks compare to such losses?
I run, falling twice, getting up, the voice telling me where to go even as the engines grow louder, the shaking steadies, and the ship begins ever so slightly to grind against the Lock, to loosen itself.
When I stop running because the voice tells me to, I am at a small room whose four sealed doors the captain opens for me one by one, and then closes again behind me. I am safe.
The ship is about to launch into Lockspace. I feel it. It is positioned where it needs to be. I remember this from the research, too. Our Lock is almost ready to send us to another Lock among distant stars. That is what the research says.
I know how it will go. What will happen to me. I can hear the captain whispering again, telling me.
It will go like this, my Sidha, he says:
When we have jumped a thousand light years to the next Lock and its Station, we will exit that Lock and come to rest in Real Space. He will guide me to the bridge again, and I will walk there, my breathing calm. At the bridge, I will stop by the bulkhead, the one on the other side of which he sleeps and yet is awake, speaking to me whenever he wishes from a dream that is not a dream.
He will tell me what I must do to join him. He will tell me what berth to go to, and all the things I can do on this ship as we travel the stars, talking like people who’ve known each other for years.
Will I feel it? Will I feel anything like what he feels for me, or felt once, his body still flesh and blood, for the woman whose name I bear?
I do not know, and I do not need to. I will feel something.
I will feel alive, and isn’t that what love should always make us feel?
DreamForge Anvil © 2021 DreamForge Press
Sidha © 2021 Bruce McAllister