The entire command staff was gathered in the conference room. The entire staff, except Commander Weir, Lt. Commander Whitmore, and Master Gunny Hanks. They were just entering the room. Whitmore entered first, and was the driest of the three. She was trying to hold back an amused grin but it wasn’t working very well.
Weir and Hanks were decisively moist. One of the things Weir gave up to be a human android was buoyancy. The moment Loud pushed Weir out of the assault ship is the moment Hanks grabbed an emergency raft and jumped in after him. She managed to swim down to Weir, attach the raft, and deploy it before he got so deep they’d have to call a special dive team to recover him.
Weir was laughing as he followed Hanks in. He was laughing because Hanks was still fuming about the stupid prank with extreme obscenities as they walked in and sat down.
McArthur looked at Weir and Hanks. “Anything I need to know before I begin?”
“No, sir!” Hanks barked back. “We’re all fucking squared the fuck away, sir!”
McArthur smirked. “Glad to hear it. We’re all volunteers in this room so I’m sure you’ve read the mission brief in detail before you signed on. What wasn’t in the brief is we will also be testing a new stardrive system, simply called a jump drive. The device will allow us to translocate the entire ship in seconds, even into a planet or star. Though exiting into a planet or star has been shown in our tests to be quite catastrophic. That’s why we will only use it to reach areas that we have accurate and up to date navigation data for. In short, the jump drive is for navigating home space and returning to Earth after mission completion.
“Our primary objective is to reach the galactic core. Hundreds of probes and manned expeditions have gone but as of yet nothing has returned. Our secondary objective will be to investigate and recover any of those probes or mission teams that we run across. Returning to home space before reaching the galactic core and without rescued survivors will constitute a mission failure and all senior staff will be court martialed for cowardice.”
“This really is a fuck off mission,” Hanks said.
“That’s an affirmative,” McArthur said. He leaned back in this chair. “Questions?”
“How does this jump drive work?” asked Lt. Commander Shannon, chief of engineering.
McArthur smiled and threw up his hands with a shrug. “Magic.”
“You were the project head,” Shannon said. “I need to know the specs and operational procedures so my team can keep it running.”
“I’ll be performing all work on the jump drive myself,” McArthur said.
“Well you said it’s been tested. How many times?”
“About two thousand unmanned, about fifty manned.”
“Have there been any injuries or deaths?”
McArthur made an anxious cough. “There is one dog missing.”
“Missing? You mean dead and unaccounted for?”
“No. I mean missing. The jump was successful. There was an error in the mass calculation and we uh… no idea where it went.”
Shannon raised her eyebrows. “Error in the mass calculation?”
“Yes, we were expecting a specific test animal. We were only given the specs of the animal, no physical description. The day we expected delivery, Admiral Oldman was touring the station with his pet dog Rico.”
“Oh god,” one of the other officers sighed.
“Somehow Rico locked himself in a crate, and we got into the lab and assumed that was our test animal. We loaded the dog up and started the mission. Well the mass was way off, as the actual test animal was supposed to be a gorilla, which arrived about an hour after we did the test jump at about the same time Admiral Oldman showed up looking for his dog.”
Jenny Hanks was the first to break out laughing. Some other officers laughed with her, while others looked gravely concerned.
Lt. Commander Whitmore raised a hand. “Was this about the time fifth fleet was dispatched to the sector around Falsberg system for an SAR?”
“Oldman pulled a few strings to look for his dog,” McArthur said.
“I spent three months looking for a dog,” Whitmore said shaking her head.
Jenny Hanks laughed even louder and harder. “A fucking Admiral’s dog!”
McArthur tapped his hand on the table and the officers quieted down.
“It was a good learning experience,” McArthur said. “As a result we added a quantum mass sensor and a few other sensors to all future test ships and reduced the possible exit area sphere from one arcminute to one milliarcsecond.”
“I’ll have my teams give extra special attention to our mass sensor and sensor suite in general,” Shannon said.
“Mine, too,” said Lieutenant Matt Lumis, commander of the damage control and maintenance team.
“Is this a race or will we be doing proper exploration?” asked Lieutenant David Bowman, commander of the science department.
“We will be looking for worlds rich in resources, worlds that can be terraformed, and Earth-like worlds,” McArthur said. “We’ll be doing thorough surveys of terraformables and Earth-likes.”
There was a moment of silence. “Any further questions?” McArthur asked.
“Well then,” he continued. “I have us set for six months to work out teething issues. Commander Weir here has decided to replace our reliable and easy to build S-91s which folded up nicely in our modular storage bays with XS-101s which do not fit at all and so far have a 50% catastrophic failure rate.
“I need science, engineering, and fabrication to coordinate and unfuck these colossally bad experimental fighters.” McArthur looked directly at Weir. “And you need to get the assholes that made those pieces of shit on the comms and get us the full design documents, as well as coordinate them with our teams. I’m going to work with the nav officer to get us to a star system we can mine.”
McArthur turned to Lt. Matt Lumis. “Mister Lumis, I need you to find the shitbirds that ignored Master Chief Reece’s order to clear the flight deck. They are to be put on punitive detail with your team until their blisters have blisters. Special focus on fixing the flight bay.”
Matt Lumis smiled. “Yessir.”
“I’m not expecting military discipline,” McArthur said to everyone. “I’m expecting everyone to do their jobs and follow orders. When we’re out of home space discipline will be civilian. Hanks here has the right idea. Deal with the bullshit before it gets to me. If I have to deal with crew drama I will be throwing people out airlocks.”
McArthur stood up and saluted. The other officers stood, saluted, and left, except for Weir who stayed behind.
“I could just use the S-91’s, we wouldn’t have to do all that work,” Weir said.
“I don’t mind. When we’re out on our own and we need to modify our inventory for a new mission, this is experience the crew will need for that. Think of it as a drill, or a team building exercise.” McArthur patted Weir’s back. “In a way you did me a favor.”
***Three Days Later
Weir was still getting used to going without sleep. He could go dormant for eight hours but even when he did that, there was no comfortable pre-wakefulness that he used to love. The moment it was time to be active, he was up, just as if there was an on-switch, because, well, there was. It wasn’t uncomfortable; it was just something to get used to. There was no need to hit the snooze button because he didn’t need it. He felt as if he were deliberately wasting time by trying to walk in the footsteps of his past, normal life. There were still certain things he craved just like he did as a human. His girlfriend left him some time ago after he became the laughing stock of the flying community. Weir imagined that this is what Gus Grissom must have felt like when the hatch pyros blew for no apparent reason on his Saturn Capsule. Weir wondered if maybe Gordon knew about his mishap; then again, if Gordon knew that Weir was the first transhuman Android, he wouldn’t have pushed him out the door of that recon craft.
Weir took a shower before heading out of his quarters and onto the deck of the brand new ship that he barely knew. Even after the shower, and the fresh uniform, Weir could smell the sea. He wondered if that was the last time he would smell that smell. He wondered if other seas would smell differently. The sea of stars had no smell. He should have taken advantage of the Earth’s ocean when he had the chance and not pretended to sink for the sake of scaring the shit out of Gordon; for all he knew, Gordon wasn’t scared — like the man said, he didn’t know him.
Weir had a few hours to go before shift and decided to find his way to the recreation center of the ship. It was still early morning and the night shift crew were the only people there. Some of the Androids were there as well; Shannon, Jessica, and Lena. Lena was a petite redhead with freckles; she almost looked like a fictional fairy that found her way into modern-day. The uniform killed the look almost; red really contrasted with the blue. Weir took particular notice to her since she waved him down.
“Commander…” She gave him a nod. “What did you think of the captain’s speech?”
Weir motioned for her to join him at the stool. He sat with his back facing the bar so he could lean his elbows on the counter and look out the large back windows. They had already departed from Earth now that the ship was fully stocked and they were on their way to the core systems, and then the outer rim. Lena climbed the stool and struggled to spin around and mimic the ExO’s sitting position. Weir smiled at her and shrugged his shoulders a little.
“It’s scary stuff… Going where people have disappeared before. Feels sort of foolish to think that we’d be any better off. You know, I once thought I was the best pilot in the galaxy and that, I could do things no other pilot could do…” Weir realized that he probably shouldn’t have been thinking out loud — contradicting the Captain’s efforts. He was supposed to support the Captain’s orders. He did support the Captain’s orders, but his outward thinking made it sound as if he didn’t. “Here’s my second chance at it!”
“Second chances!” The seemingly young Engineer said. If she could have lifted a glass, she would have; their hands were empty. There was really no need for either of them to drink. Weir was happy to find something good to come out of the mission. At least there was one person that knew about his past and didn’t hold it against him. If he had stayed at home, he wouldn’t have met her. Maybe she didn’t know all the specifics of the accident. Weir almost felt guilty for not making sure; he was happy to have some forgiveness while it lasted, even if she wouldn’t forgive him later. Weir didn’t feel like he deserved a second chance. There were plenty of people who did, just, not him.
Hanna walked in and pretended like she didn’t even notice he was in the room. Weir kept his distance from Lena by breaking away from the conversation and stepping out of the rec-room. He didn’t want too many people to see them together. She’d find out everything eventually but for now, it was nice to feel normal again. Hanna had that look that he knew all too well. He watched as she found someone to talk to other than him. Eyeballs in the room shot over to him and that was his queue to leave. Weir stepped into the empty hallway outside of the compartment and hoped for a moment that maybe Lena would follow him outside. She never came.
Hanna was probably talking to Lena right now; that was most likely why she wasn’t coming. With a sigh, Weir walked away only to run into Jaime Whitmore. Now that her hair was dry as well as her uniform, he finally got to see what she looked like; she was pretty. He liked the short hairstyle, the straight black hair, the hint of freckles, and the piercing blue eyes. Of course, he’d have no chance with her, either. As a pilot, she was well aware of the current events.
“Commander… We have those boards switched out sir. Just looking for permission from the Captain and we can try these fighters out for a test run.”
“Can you swap them out in the programmed templates on the computers so that when we lose them, they will be printed with the boards we need and not that new crap that was placed inside the old ones?”
Jaime shrugged her slender shoulders and placed a hand on her hip, “We have a lot of them in there. Does this have to be done right away?”
“Just as long as you don’t launch all of them. Let’s set your deadline for the end of the week.”
Jaime nodded and tilted her head at Weir.
“About the scheduled test time, sir?”
“Yeah… Let me get with the captain. I’ll talk with him personally about it. What time is it?”
“Time for you to ask the computer, sir.” Jaime said. “You are one now, aren’t you?” She looked him up and down and shook her head slightly. Weir watched as she walked away from him. Weir didn’t know what to think of that comment. He reached over to the nearest wall panel and pulled open a computer terminal. The time on the center of the screen showed that McArthur was probably still in his drowsy state after hitting snooze on some alarm.
Weir decided it was best to just shoot an inter-mail to him so that he could address the issue on his own time instead of being bothered by it on a wrist-com. Weir activated the sensor-type keyboard and began tapping on a piece of metal next to the screen.
To: McArthur, Weston
From: Weir, Bryan
The old control boards are now installed into the new fighters. Ready for testing at the earliest convenience.
Just as he was shutting the console back into the wall, Hanna stepped out of the rec-room holding her arm. Lena followed while apologizing. Hanna sent Weir a threatening gaze as she passed him.
“Chief Swan.. Are you okay?”
“Fine!” Hanna yelled.
Lena stopped following her Weir looked to her.
“What the hell happened?”
“Disagreements,” Lena said.
“Over what? And what did you do to her?”
“She tried to damage me.”
“She threw a punch?” Weir asked.
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
Weir shot her the evil eye and shook his head.
“You know I could order you to talk about it since this technically falls under a morale issue and I’m the first officer.”
Lena shifted her weight to one side and leaned against the wall next to the computer terminal Weir was working on earlier and raised her eyebrow after she looked him up and down like sizing someone up.
“You aren’t the type to pull rank. Especially after what I heard happened.”
“So you learned about the crash and that’s why you went off on her; defending my honor?”
“Good point but that’s technically what you were doing.” Weir stated flatly.
“You don’t have to react like that.”
Lena rolled her eyes this time. “I didn’t react! I just told her that I didn’t care, and she was the one that tried to hurt me over it.”
“I doubt she tried to really, really hurt you.” Weir said. “You’re an android; you have to be aware of your capabilities – especially when someone tries to push you around because they can’t control their feelings.” Weir explained. “Coming from someone who’s been human before, and now a droid, you can at least trust my experience on that. I’ve been on both ends of this.”
Lena stood up straight again.
“I can tell you’re going to be a wonderful person to work with. Commander know-it-all…” Lena pushed past Weir and walked away. Weir decided it best to go down to med-bay and check on the human that broke her arm on an android.
Jessica Riley was working on Hanna’s arm.
Weir stepped in and looked at her.
“Can I have the room with Chief Swan?” Weir asked.
“No,” Jessica replied kindly. “I’m setting her bone and injecting her with nanites. But, you can talk to her here.”
Weir detected a hint of a smile on her lips.
“Chief… First off, I wanted to thank you for prepping the deck so quickly when I had to call my emergency landing. That was good work. I’m also going to try and keep this information from the captain since it doesn’t need to go to him but be aware, if he finds out about it, I won’t deny it.”
“It’s not like he’ll turn around just to drop me off at Earth…” Hanna made a good point while fighting the pain of whatever Jessica was doing with a large needle inserted into her arm. Weir pulled a chair away from the doctors work station and sat down while watching the young Chief flinch, squint her eyes at random, and suck air through her teeth.
“True,” Weir said. “But I don’t want to see your career cut short just because you can’t control yourself.”
“You should look who’s talking. Such high-horse advice from someone who knows all about not being able to control themselves.”
Jessica raised her eyebrows at the two of them and pulled the needle out of her arm sharply. Hanna nearly screamed. Jessica even gave Hanna a swift tap on her arm to make the girl flinch before taking a step back.
“You two need the room…” She offered Weir a slight nod before stepping out.
Weir and Hanna stayed silent for a while. He just watched her as she sat on the medical bed, holding her arm. Weir could hear the air compressors kicking in down the hallway it was so quiet. Weir just looked at her with a blank expression until Hanna looked away and pretended to seem interested in a medical readout that Jessica left hanging on a chart with displays of her fractured arm cycling through on the papers.
“You’re a Chief at your age because you’re sharp, intelligent, and resourceful. You aren’t just some crew member they decided to stuff in a ship to fulfill a quota, and you saved my life. You haven’t even begun to build your reputation and I’m trying to save you from going through what I had to go through and that, Chief Hanna Swan, is something I can get on my high horse and preach to you about. At least I had respect before I blew it on a stupid stunt. Am I really the person that you want to build your reputation on. Are you going to spend your time as a nineteen year old Chief, building a reputation as a little hater that bashes other people, causes fights, and creates insubordination? I’m standing here talking to a girl that saved my life. I’m returning the favor.”
There was more silence. Hanna sighed regretfully and shook her head. Weir could tell that he obviously didn’t change her mind completely, but he did give her something to think about. She looked to Weir while stretching her arm out. He could tell that the nanites were certainly doing their job to mend her bones. She rubbed her arm with her good hand and finally asked the million dollar question.
“Sir, why did you do what you did?”
“I was stupid,” Chief… “I was stupid. I thought I could do anything. And I don’t need reminders.” Weir said. “Every time I wake up as if someone just flipped a damned power button on, I know what I did to myself instantly. And I can relive things in Virtual Definition on Recall. It’s no fun. I’m paying for my mistakes. You don’t need to help me. Do you think I have any friends here?” Weir laughed sadly at himself and left the room.