Authors: Charles Barouch
Tags: #Science Fiction Adventure
"Let's go," Audra said.
"We can't just…"
"You need to see what's happened to the bridge. We need to go now, Captain," Audra insisted.
Tiago was concerned for the Masterless, but he was more concerned for the ship and all it provided for him. He followed Audra and MB1 out toward the airlock. Audra pulled two vacuum suits out of the box which MB1 was carrying. They pulled the suits over their clothes and stepped into the smaller bubble. Tiago tapped the right spot with his foot and the large dome re-sealed. Moments later, the smaller dome disappeared.
The trip back to SS1 was quiet. Tiago linked to RS3, which was still on the surface, and sent it back to the Interrogative. SS1 followed behind. Other than issuing orders to the shuttles, nothing else was said. Once on board, they left their suits in the shuttle closet for next time. They reached the lift before Tiago finally summoned the will to ask.
"What's wrong with the bridge?"
"Nothing," she said.
"Then why tell me… why worry me?"
"We needed to get clear of the Masterless before we talked," Audra said. "We need to decide their fate."
They returned to the shuttle, just to have a place to sit. Tiago told her everything he'd learned, and everything he'd figured out, about the Masterless. It wasn't a long conversation, but it held great weight. Audra had said it herself, they were about to decide the fate of these – former? – people. Just leaving now would probably guarantee their death. Four deaths, just four. Somehow, that added up to genocide.
"So, we offer them a berth on the ship, right?" Audra asked. "You wanted company; they need a purpose."
"They killed their masters. They destroyed their own civilization. These are crazy, unstable creatures. Can we really invite them aboard? Even to save them, to preserve their race, can we risk it?"
"They have technology we don't, like that adaptation shot." Audra pointed out. "They have the ability to quickly figure out alien technology. They have a superior ability to absorb languages. Look at how easily they took the
. We know the level of paranoia embedded in these systems."
"Enormous risk. You are right, though. They would be immensely useful, if they don't kill us."
"We have to bring them on board," Audra said. "Agreed?"
"Just keep them the hell away from the hydroponics garden."
Tiago wanted to return immediately to present their offer to the Masterless. Audra insisted he make three stops within the ship first. She sent Tiago to his first stop, the galley, to get something to eat while she headed back to the bridge.
"Interrogative. Standard food order number four."
He ate his meal without tasting it, his mind elsewhere. He sat and tried to make an orderly story out of his recent adventures. So much had happened. He wondered if it was worth it. He had escaped Earth only to be lost in the vastness of the universe.
Eventually, he continued to his second stop, his quarters. Washing up felt wonderful. The warm water did more than just help him shed the dirt. It made him more peaceful. Letting himself go blank in the shower was more emotionally rewarding than sitting in the galley had been. When he got out, he dressed in his formal garb. Grabbing his cane, Tiago hoped there was a second chance to make a first impression.
The third and final stop before he returned to the moon was the bridge. Audra said that there was actually something good that she wanted to show him there. When the lift doors opened, you could have knocked Tiago over with a feather. Three stations were occupied by embodied sims.
Neville was at the helm. Nellie was at engineering. Audra had moved herself to life sciences. Instead of saying anything, Tiago gathered himself and walked over to the captain's chair. He looked at the crew – at his crew – and felt out of place. They were all dressed alike, in the same casual manner that he had dressed Audra. He was in formal clothes, covered except for the eyes and fingertips.
"When I get back from the moon, we should talk about uniforms," Tiago said. "Not something like Future Defense uses. Something much cooler."
Audra smiled. He hadn't said 'good job' but she felt like he had. Tiago stood, saluted them all, and headed for the lift. SS1 still had the vacuum suits in it, so he was ready to go.
"Interrogative. Prepare airlock seventeen for SS1. SS1. Plot a course to the dome on the nearest moon. SS1. Take us to the dome."
The trip was short and uneventful. Tiago walked to the dome, toed the airlock, and was soon back in the computer room. The holo snapped on as soon as he entered the room.
"You came back," the holo said." I saw the shuttle land but I don't know why. What do you want here?"
"I want to offer you a new mission, with me as your captain, not your master. Will the Masterless join me – join us – on the Interrogative as crew?"
"After all we have done? How could we trust you?" the holo said.
"How can you trust me?"
"Offering us compassion like this is insane. You must be crazy. Why should we trust someone who is crazy?" the holo clarified.
Tiago had to laugh. They think I'm crazy, he thought.
"You are the last of your kind. I don't want that weight on my conscience. We are, each of us, crazy in our own way. Maybe those ways will turn out to be complimentary."
"There is nothing for us here. There is nothing for us on the planet," the holo said. "Staying is death. Going is unlikely to be worse. We will go with you," the holo said.
"All of you?"
"If you don't want all of us, I can kill some of the others. How many did you want to keep?" The holo asked.
"What? No. Stop. No killing. Wow. No. I just meant that I've only been speaking to one of you. Do the others agree?"
"The brothers have no opinions. They do as I suggest. Always," the holo asserted.
The word 'suggest' sounded a great deal like the word 'command' when the Lesser Prime said it.
"The Interrogative is not a slave ship. They have to be consulted."
"There is no end to the depths of your insanity," the holo said.
After a moment, the Lesser Prime continued. "You still have me locked out. I can't summon their holos."
"Computer. Show the holos for the brothers."
Three more holos winked in next to the Prime Lesser's holo. They were all slightly shorter than she and differed very little from each other.
"What are your names?"
"This is Meteorology, Soil, and Botany," the Prime Lesser said. "Tell him you agree to accept him as captain."
"They can speak for themselves. Do you want to join us?"
"Does your ship have weather?" Asked Meteorology.
"No," Tiago admitted.
"Huge tracts of land?" asked Soil.
"Plants?" asked Botany.
Tiago wanted to say no. He'd even joked about keeping them away from hydroponics.
"Yes. We have plants."
"But no soil?" Soil asked.
"We grow everything in a lab."
"Does the lab have strict environmental controls?" asked Meteorology.
"But no soil?" Soil asked.
The four holos turned their backs to Tiago. The language they debated in was unknown to him. Tiago sat in the chair and let them work it out. It only took a few minutes, but he was surprised when they switched back to Portuguese.
"Agreed," said the Prime Lesser. "We will join you."
"Is that what you want? Soil? Meteorology? Botany?"
"Don't call them that," the Lesser Prime said. "They want human names if they are going to be crew."
"Soil is a slave name," said Soil in a defiant tone.
"Fine. We need to figure out how much of the equipment here needs to be moved in order to bring you safely aboard."
* * *
It took three days. Tiago spent most of the three sleeping. Audra had suggested that Nellie and Neville handle the move. It was good to have crew. Tiago dedicated his waking hours to programming. He added several protocols to the ship's computer to guard against the Masterless taking everything over again. He didn't exactly trust them.
It worried him that he could only plan for the attacks he knew about. They might have another hundred ways to break a computer. He was, begrudgingly, impressed with their skills. Tiago didn't take any pleasure form invading Audra's mind to install safeguards, but he did it. It was less emotional to hack Nellie and Neville. If any of the three were aware of his intrusion, they showed no sign.
When Tiago arrived on the bridge, after three days of sleeping and programming, he was surprised to see four more stations occupied. All four Masterless were now also embodied. Unlike the sims, which took a human form, the Masterless had their own, native, appearance. Their created bodies mimicked their original bodies. Tiago noticed small changes from the holo versions. They all looked slightly taller and more muscular. He thought about his abandoned attempt at rebuilding himself in the gym. Their way was easier.
"Captain on the bridge," said Audra. "May I present your crew. Lieutenant Nellie Used, Engineering. Lieutenant Neville Used, Helm. Ensign Gwen K'eela, Communications. Ensign Bob K'eela, Life Sciences. Ensign Bob K'eela, Hydroponics. And Ensign Bob K'eela, Planetary Survey."
"They all named themselves Bob?" Tiago asked.
"I didn't," Gwen said. "Bob is a male name."
"Did we get everything we needed from the dome? Will the new crewmen be alright when we leave?" Tiago asked Nellie.
"All set, Captain," she replied.
"Good. Now we just need a direction," Tiago said. "I'd like to find a nice, normal planet with a nice, normal population."
"Nearest one is Prilorial Six. We can be there in seven jumps," said Gwen.
Tiago just stared at her in disbelief.
"We have the star charts of every ship we defeated, Captain," she said.
This changes everything, thought Tiago. From now on, we'll only be as lost as we want to be.
Books by Charles Barouch
Tiago and the Masterless
Tiago vs. The Jezoani (
Tiago and the Tunnels of Krall (
Stand Alone Novels
Adjacent Memories (
Theme-Thology: Day I Died
Theme-Thology: New Myths
Theme-Thology: Real World Unreal (
Super-Thology: Origins (
Other Books by HDWPbooks & Colliding Scopes
Reality Breaks (
Good Neighbors & Other Stories (
Fall & Rise (
Bentley Turner (
Beautiful People (
PerihelionSF Anthology Series (