In this week’s episode, Lilly del Morto finally meets the mysterious captain who saved her life. He’s…not exactly what she expected.
Freshly showered, Lilly found a black jumpsuit laid out in the latrines. It was cut for a man and a little too big, but she’d always had an affinity for black clothing. She was glad to be out of that hospital gown, too. As she pulled the new suit on, she noticed a patch on the left sleeve. It was a circle embroidered with what looked like a guitar–a flying V model she recognized from the vids of Earth music from a few centuries back, the ones her dad had made her watch. Embroidered around the electric blue instrument were the words CPT STARSHIP: JUSTICE IN FLIGHT.
As she zipped it up, she felt the sharp corner of something rectangular in the breast pocket. Reaching in, she found a pack of UV Lights–her brand of smokes. She tore the wrapper off to find 20 fresh cigarettes, all white except for the two stripes that marked the edge of the filter in a purple not unlike the hue of her hair. Prying one out with a quivering finger, she placed it between her lips only to realize suddenly that she didn’t have a lighter.
Conveniently, it was then that a voice distracted her.
“Lilly del Morto, please report to the bridge for debriefing.” The voice was female and authoritative. It reminded Lilly of a stern teacher. “Lilly del Morto, please report to the bridge for debriefing,” it repeated. “Take the elevator at the end of the hall.”
Lilly stashed the smoke behind her hear, brushing her hair behind it. She picked up the Riot bracelet from where she’d left it next to the sink, slipped it on, and left the latrines. She wandered to the end of the hall, surveying the interior of the ship as she went.
She was still confused by its composition. She had served on plenty of human vessels, and her fair share of alien ships as well. While she recognized bits and pieces of this ship from her past, she had never seen so many elements from different manufacturers pulled together in a single craft.
She arrived at the elevator, which was small and cramped. After a short ride, the doors opened and she found herself on the most advanced bridge she’d ever seen. Not in the sense of military advancement, either, where uniformity is a part of the tech. This was a wonderland of systems, arrays, and terminals that all had reputations for their quality.
Whatever the original make of this ship was, someone had retrofitted it all its essential system with some of the most advanced equipment she’d ever seen. The engine read-outs were in Ytalo, a species known for their high-speed interstellar Grand Prixes. The life support monitors bore the red blood drop logo of the Galactic Aid Union. The comms terminal was Galactic Union as well, a high-end translation suite usually reserved for diplomatic purposes. And the weapons system was branded with the crest of the Hawkian military. Stamped in black paint next to the shield with wings was a word Lilly recognized as Hawkian for prototype.
“Not too shabby, eh?” It was the voice of the cowboy from the UV Lights commercials.
Lilly looked around. “Where are you?”
“I’m here. I’m all around you. But how rude of me–let me introduce myself. You can call me Captain Starship, or just Cap if’n you like. Pardon me for keeping you in the dark on this, but it’s my experience that most organics don’t take too kindly to finding themselves alone on a vessel run by synths like me.”
“Yes’m, I am. I am a self-aware AI. I run this ship, captain its crew, and do my best to make the galaxy a just place to live. It ain’t easy, though. In particular, I have a soft spot for victims of Hawkian aggression, though I reckon Doc already spilled the beans about that to you.”
“Self-aware? I thought self-aware AI was illegal. Doesn’t it only exist in stories?”
“Well, I never said I represented the law necessarily–just justice. And hell, as an AI, the whole universe is code to me, and I reckon code is just another word for story if ya think about it.”
Lilly took a moment to consider everything she’d just learned. “You said there’s still a crew on this ship. Why?”
“Oh, I like the company.” A moment passed. Lilly felt uncomfortable. “Just a joke. Really, they help me cut down on processing time by taking care of certain essential functions through separate programs.”
“Separate programs? So they’re all AIs, too?”
“Some are virtual intelligences–VIs. But they’re all synthetics, if that’s what you’re curious about.”
“So you’re telling me this ship and its entire crew are synths?”
“That is correct, ma’am.”
“Okay.” Lilly crossed her arms. “So…what now?”
“Well, the way I see it, we got a couple of options. Seeing as you’re a guest here and a refugee at that, I reckon we owe it to you to provide you with some safety and hospitality. So we can take you wherever you call a home or to whatever colony or station you’d like. Although, after seeing you in action against that Hawkian assault frigate, I’d consider another option.”
“What other option?”
“Well, as you can imagine, what with my very existence being a violation of several planetary and galactic codes, it can be quite difficult for our ship to interact with organic life forms. Charisma only goes so far, ya know.” Another uncomfortable silence. “Another joke. Anyway, for quite some time now, I’ve been keep my sensors on in search of an organic being that could act as a sort of ambassador to other organic life forms for me ‘n’ the rest of the crew; someone to negotiate in the ports, run vid links with nosy folks we happen across in space, and generally give us a bit of cover from the prying eyes of law enforcement. It can be pretty damn exhausting simulating organic life on a ship, after all.”
“So…is this a job offer?”
“Yes’m. It sure is.”
Lilly considered the possibilities. Her experience with synths was limited, but she didn’t have any real reason to mistrust this charismatic AI other than the boilerplate prejudices most government propaganda used around the time of AI prohibition. And, as she weighed the options, she realized that not only could this be a promising career opportunity, but it was also a beautiful chance to do some meaningful sticking it to the Man. Or Hawk. Whichever, really. She was going to need a job anyway; better to take this one than end up turfside somewhere looking for work in a port again.
“Alright,” she finally said. “I’ll join your crew. But you have to help me with something first–a promise I made that I have to keep.”
“I reckon we can handle that. I’ll put you in touch with our mission coordinator and we can plan out the op. And let me just say how tickled I am to have you joining our crew.”
“Well, you drive a hard bargain.” Lilly smiled and went to brush her hair behind her ear when she found the UV Light there. “Oh, and one more thing, Cap,” she said.
“What is it?” the Captain asked.
“Got a light?”