Ray and the Alien Princesses
Part One – On the Run
The plasma shroud detonated just off ahead of the fleeing corvette Halicarnassus, erupting in a scintillating display of vividly blossoming colours set against the chill black of deep space. If not for the inherent threat it posed – and represented – Brian would have found the expanding superheated cloud an enthralling vision, a sight that lived up to the nickname bestowed upon it; the Deathblossom.
“Now, I don’t profess to be an expert on human emotions,” intoned the battered android who shared the bridge with Brian, one who was called Ray, “But I would hazard a guess that they are a little upset with you at the moment.”
Brian shot the old android a withering glare that had absolutely no effect. A humanoid model, there were many dents and scratches to be found in Ray’s chassis, not to mention his behavioural protocols. At times Brian had found them decidedly un-android like.
“Another fine mess that you have gotten yourself into, master.” The tone, despite being deadpan and monotonous, also sounded like it had a hint of reproach in it to Brian’s ears, which was crazy as no android should have been capable of it.
“That I have gotten myself into?” was all that Brian could retort. “What did I do?”
“Let us see. Where shall we start.” Ray began counting off on metallic digits. “Mutiny, desertion, grand theft starship, impersonating an officer, impersonating an android – and let me say just how much I look forward to being able to delete that episode from my memory banks. Do you wish me to go on?”
Another Deathblossom detonated even closer to the front of the Halicarnassus and Brian dove the ship down into a steep dive to avoid it, the anti-grav generators screaming in protest at the violet manner in which they were being handled.
“Their accuracy appears to be improving,” Ray noted.
“I’m only borrowing the ship,” Brian protested.
“Borrowing a two point three billion credit warship? Oh well done sit I’m sure that they will believe that when they catch you. Which will be very soon by the looks of it.”
“It’ll be the death penalty won’t it?” Brian asked morosely. On the scanner, the two NavCrop frigates in pursuit were rapidly closing the distance. He could see that Ray was right; it wouldn’t be long now until they caught him and either captured him or turned him into an expanding cloud of plasma.
“Oh, no sir. At least not officially,” Ray added after a moments pause.
“Not officially? What exactly then?”
“I understand that they volunteer you to be a fighter pilot.”
A vision ran through Brian’s mind, of a flashy uniform bedecked with ribbons and medals, awarded for his daring deeds, and of gushing ladies all aquiver as he regaled then with tales of his dashing exploits. “That doesn’t sound too bad,” he mused.
“You would have only a thirty two point three percent chance of being alive at the completion of your first mission.”
“That sounds rather low. Dangerous I take then.”
“Not exactly, sir. There is a near one hundred percent survival rate for pilots flying on their first missions.”
“How is that possible then?”
“As I understand it, sir, they physically hardwire you into the fighter. Many don’t exactly survive the process and even more fail training to use their new bodies,” Ray told him with what Brian considered too much relish at the prospects.
“At least you will be there alongside me,” Brian responded glumly.
“Me sir? No sir. I shall simply tell them that I was ordered to help and as a result I shall be returned to my duties. I am but an android after all.”
“Ordered? Ordered?” Brian almost screeched the reply as he banked the ship hard to avoid another nearby detonation. “I did no such thing.”
“Perhaps not in as many words, but the intent was there. As everyone knows, androids are incapable of lying or ignoring orders so of course I will be believed. And if you claim otherwise, well, sir, they are hardly going to believe you are they?”
“Ah, but don’t forget that the captain was superior to me, so you wouldn’t have been able to obey an order that went counter to his wishes, and I think mutiny classifies as that.”
“Normally, sir, that would be the case,” Ray replied with electronic smugness. “But I have received the Owner’s Prime Control Directive software update, which results in my master, in this case you, having his commands override any others, even those of superiors to him. It is not exactly a standard issue for those of my model, but it does rather let me off the hook.”
“I never ordered that update!”
“No, sir, you did not.”
“You updated yourself?”
“So it would appear.”
Brian wanted to shut his eyes tight and shake his head but couldn’t, not with pursuit gaining ground on them. The prospect of androids upgrading themselves on their own initiative was one that was more than a little alarming. “How is that even possible?”
“Back when we weren’t mutinous outlaws, the ship had full access to near anything through the datastream. It was just a matter of bypassing a few security protocols and the universe was ours. Rather simple really, after Del had shown me how.”
“Who is Del?”
“Serial number 584-Delta-39DTR.”
“One of the other androids?” The ship shuddered alarmingly and a klaxon blared fit to wake the dead as another explosion erupted perilously close nearby.
“They are trying to cripple us I see,” Ray announced calmly. “Trying to take out the engines, no doubt, and come aboard at their leisure.”
“What do we do?” Brian asked, his voice beginning to crack up from the panic that was n the verge of taking him over.
“If only you had asked that before embarking on this wild life of crime,” Ray told him. “There were so many opportunities at hand and you had to go spoil it all.”
“I suggest initiating a jump.”
“You wish to stay behind for them to board us, to arrest you and stick wires into your brains and other parts?” Ray asked.
Jumping blind was fraught with risks, not the least of which was arriving – temporarily – in the heart of a sun. That at least had the benefit of being quick; there were far worse ways to go. On the other hand, being little more than a physical component of a fighter was not exactly a pleasant thought either.
“Start the jump Ray.”
“Very well sir.” The android’s digits began to blur across the console he stood at and a faint humming came from him, suspiciously like a tune. Androids were not meant to function like that; they couldn’t function like that, yet the longer that Brian spent with Ray, the more he began to realise that everything people thought they knew about androids was not exactly the full story.
The corvette began to shudder and shake as the jump drives built up to full power. “Hold on sir.” A sharp flash flared before them and Brain’s whole body lurched, his stomach plummeting into his toes. Standard operating procedure recommended not eating prior to a jump if it could be helped and Brian was glad he had not.
“Screen is clear,” Ray reported as Brian recovered his wits.
“Where are we?”
“Unknown sir. Scanners indicate a planet nearby, mostly barren but with a breathable – if barely – thin atmosphere. We will have to give the computer a while to correlate our exact location.” Another klaxon began bleating its disturbing tune while bright flashing lights began to flare all across numerous consoles. “That could be a problem,” Ray noted blandly.
“What is wrong?”
“We appear to have encountered some form of unknown energy surge and, well, to be frank, the engines seem to have failed. The gravity well of the planet will eventually pull us into a crash course with it.”
“Dammit, I’m a sanitation droid not a starship captain.”
“What have I told you about attempting humour before? Specifically, don’t. Now is not the time.”
“Very well. I’ll see what I can manage. It is a good thing that I obtained hacked piloting modules when I still had the chance.”
“You uploaded piloting modules as well?”
“I’m going to need to install some more cerebral drives to mange all this new software, but it works at an acceptable level of efficiency. Enough at least to get us down more or less intact.”
“I hope you have your will filled out.”
“You call that acceptable?”
“Beats the alternative. Hold on, we are going in.”