Tuesday: Lea

I had no idea what time it was. I had asked Libby to wake me after a couple of hours. She let me sleep all day. It was about one in the morning now; I had slept a day away.

 “Ugh, Tuesday!” I grumbled to myself. I told Ba’an I would be back on Central by Monday at the latest. I really hoped he wouldn’t be mad at. He wouldn’t; he was never mad at me.

After leaving my room, I went into the living area. I was only in some shorts and a vest top; I had no idea how horrendous my hair was; I assumed it was pretty bad.

The lights would have activated dimly at these times of night, to stop me falling out a day/night cycle.

I looked around the room. The three-dimensional wall projectors had defaulted to log cabin because there was no one in the room to ask for anything. I looked at the old brown leather couch and the antique wooden coffee table in front of it. This was the one wall decoration that matched the furniture. There was a little countertop to divide the kitchen area and the main room. Next to that was an old table and four chairs.

“Libby?” I called.

A quick slap on the wall woke the food-hatch from standby.

I scrolled around the menu and selected a cherry cider and a bowl of granola. I had been eating a lot of traditional food from home, ever since it got attacked. I wanted to feel connected to it again, but I had been gone too long. The food was still good though. My people were the best in the galaxy at granola. It was borderline a planetary treasure to us. I smiled; then I remembered how home had been destroyed while I watched out of a window. I took a gulp of the cider and suppressed a shudder.

I sat on the couch. “Libby!” I called again.

Unbelievable! She let me sleep all day, then doesn’t even stick around to hang out when I did wake up. Princess could be a dick sometimes.

Well, when alone, do alone things! I went back to the hatch and got a bottle of whiskey. May as well improve the cider with my old friend, brown-tingly yummy.

“Thirteen, turn on the screen!” I yelled. Thirteen’s computer chimed, the screen came on. “Resume previous video.” It chimed again. The show carried on from where it left off. This was a human show about a man who lived in a tiny apartment and had all his friends visit. I wasn’t sure what it was actually about. Jon and Ba’an said that asking that very question was the point. It was funny.

I drank the whiskey.

💠

“Really? How did this even happen?” Libby chastised as she sat next to me. The pain in my head was second only to the pain in my back. I had slept on the couch, but somehow half of me was on the floor. I think I had slid off, or at least began the process.

“Shh!” I complained, realising the room was spinning. “How did what even happen?” I asked, holding my head and wondering what time it was.

“It’s seven. In the morning. You said you were going to sleep yesterday morning and according to the hatch log, you drank yourself silly in your room until noon, then woke up this morning at one and carried on!”

“Was there a question in there somewhere?” I asked, covering my eyes, hoping the universe would calm down a little. I tried to figure out why she was shouting.

“Sober up, take a shower, and grab some Cure-all. I told Ba’an and Jon that we would be home before nine today.”

She wasn’t shouting. It was the hangover. Ah, that made more sense.

“How about you bring me the Cure-all and then carry me into the shower, you beautiful over achiever?”

She gave me the Libby glare. You know the one… The one where she pretended to be gathering her thoughts, but she was just wasting a few cycles while she invented gravity or something. She didn’t need to perform this with me. I had known her too long for it to work.

“Here,” she said. Handing me the Cure-all that had been in her hand the entire time. “I refuse to carry you though.”

I chugged the contents of the little green vial and tossed it into the pile of cans and bottles from last night… or this morning; it was a blurry line at this point. Was it still Tuesday?

I lay back while the Cure-all did its thing. It didn’t cure hangovers, but it certainly took the edges off of them. A little coffee, okay, a lot of coffee and I would be just fine.

After a few seconds, I felt it kick in and the blinding headache was turned down to a serious throb. A throb, I could handle. Libby had gone. Where did she go?

She appeared behind the sofa with a bottle of water. “Here, drink this. Get your shit together Brick!” she acted all mean, but really, she was a kitten, a hot kitten who would kick my arse if I didn’t get moving soon.

I took the water and headed to my room. My room was a fucking mess. Libby was untidy but I was on another level. I was shocked that Ba’an hadn’t ever commented on it. I really should get some maid robots, or hologram emitters like I had in my apartment at Libby’s building.

I sat on my bed and lay back. I really wanted to sleep off this hangover. 

I closed my eyes for a moment. Some part of me wanted to sleep and maybe drink a little more. Then he popped into my head. The thought of Ba’an, he knew full-well that I had got wasted alone on my ship again, while he was waiting to love me. Why did he even bother with me?

I knew why most men wanted me: because I was hot. I was, am, have always been, everyone’s type. But Ba’an was a Vampire, and a man of almost saintly morality. He loved me, he wouldn’t leave me.

Ba’an loved me like no one else. Actually, that’s not true. Jon, and Libby loved me exactly as much, but not in the same way. I don’t think they wanted to sleep with me… oh my gosh! I caught myself a moment before I fell asleep!

I slapped my face and sat up. “Shower!” I yelled at the ship. My room was flooded with white light and there was a comforting rumble. I felt instantly fresher. I wanted to lie down again but resisted the urge.

The targeted Hygiene-field would clean the clothes I was wearing, but I needed to look like I was actively attempting to be a functional person, or Libby wouldn’t let me fly the ship home.

I dug through the pile of clothes, I pulled out an Elven ranger jacket and some shorts. I couldn’t find a vest. I shrugged and just zipped up the jacked_. Ewe, when did I wear this last?_ “Shower!” I said again, wanting the jacket to be as fresh as the rest of me. I found some grey knee-high boots that matched the jacket closely enough that I could make it work. Circlet… I hunted under my duvet and found it. I slapped it on my wrist and put my hair into space-buns. Because I was in space, and it was cute.

I put a little lip gloss on and checked the mirror. Yep. I looked like a hot mess. Fashion icon!

💠

I strutted onto the bridge with a coffee in hand and looked functional as fuck! There was only a tiny bit of brown-tingly in the coffee too. Today was a good day. Thank Aygah, for letting me be born a Brick! I could drink and party for a year before I looked as shit as a Human did a day later.

“Okay Libby, I’m awake, and looking fab. Let’s get this motherfucker in the air!”

Libby was sitting with her feet on the weapons console and looked like she was reading the air. She did this when she accessed the network directly with her avatar. It was creepy.

“Hey Princess, watch porn on your own time!” I yelled as I sat in the flight chair and pressed the system start-up button.

Libby shook her head a little, as if to clear her thoughts. This was all part of her “I must be as organic looking as possible” thing that she run as a subroutine. I wished she would knock it off around me. She was one of my best friends and the fact that she wasn’t organic meant literally nothing to me. All that time she spent around humans seemed to have left her with some issues. Earth was shit.

“Lea, are you even fit to fly?” she asked.

“Yes. Don’t scan me. I do not consent!” I said back sternly.

“Fine!” she said, folding her arms, that’d teach me!

I saw the green light come on that told me that the ship had successfully negotiated launch authorisation from Mercia’s dock crew. It was nice having a ship that could talk to a dock crew for me. Saved me a boring job.

I pulled the left lever to lift the ship away from the dock, then the handle next to it to put on a little manual forward motion. I used one of the flight sticks to tilt us up towards the iris. Accelerated at just the right speed.

The ship obeyed me like it was a fighter; it was actually a fully functional star ship. A small one. One of the smallest. And it was mine. All mine. I loved Thirteen.

The moment I was passed the iris I slammed the throttle into high and shot out of the docking tube like a firework. I added a little spin too, would make us look extra cool to all the passenger liners that were docking. Gave the kids something cool to point at out of the window.

“Thirteen, please keep your speed down. I should not have to remind you; you are in a planetary system,” the communication link said. Ugh, fuck off, humans! Central government didn’t give a shit how fast I was going. Stop projecting Earthlings!

A light on the dash activated and the ship’s computer spoke down the communication link: “Mercia control, this is Thirteen. This ship requires speed burst to prime its systems for landing, with the planet being so close, this is the only way our design allows for us to do that.”

Shit! That was an excellent lie. Why I had never thought of that. I was stunned.

“Thirteen, your ship design is not on file, but you do have a high clearance. I’ll make a note on your ID code. You won’t be asked about it again. Have a pleasant trip.”

“What the absolute fuck! Thirteen? Is that you?” I asked to the ceiling, as I dropped my speed and entered the atmosphere.

“Yes, captain. I have instruction to cover all your administration needs. Was this an acceptable action?”

“Yeah, it was great! Good job Thirteen!” I said, leaning around the flight chair to look at Libby.

“You fixed it then,” I observed.

She grinned at me like a smug cat. “The core you were fitting was trash. I got a real nice one from my warehouse and fitted it under that console.” She pointed at the access door I was working on yesterday. It had driven me mad. She had fixed it, upgraded it, and programmed it in probably about thirty seconds.

“Thank you, Libby!” I said sweetly.

When she had said ‘from her warehouse,’ that told me a lot. It told me it was one of the cores that she had designed herself. Which meant it was probably a decade ahead of anything else in the galaxy. Thirteens shitty AI core was its weakest system. Now it was the strongest.

“Wait, Where’s the TLC display?” I asked.

The TLC chip was the thing that all cores had to have by law, the thing that indicated if a core had developed a mind of its own or not. No one wanted to use a living person as a slave. It was important to me that I didn’t mistreat anyone.

If this core suddenly emerged life, I would want to do the right thing. It was very important to me that I knew if it emerged with life. I would make a great AI mom!

“I knew you would ask. So, I made a very minor alteration to your flight screen.”

“You did what?” I asked, suddenly wondering where my gun was. I had a very complex flight setup that I did not want anyone fucking with.

“Relax! Fire it up. You won’t be mad. I promise.”

I slowed the ship in a high atmosphere and waved for the flight screen to appear. I didn’t actually need this turned on, not just get us home; I hadn’t thought to fire it up.

A white light flickered on the dash as the projector lit and the display popped into existence in front of me. “It’s orange!” I said as I saw what she had done. There had always been frames around the floating sections of the display system. Anything that was AI controlled had been blue. Now it was orange, or amber, I suppose. I instantly realised what Libby had done. The TLC chip would control the colour of the interface. If it was orange, then it meant that the core was still an AI nothing more. If it went green, then that would mean it had gained sentience, and was, at least becoming alive_. It also meant it would turn red when I activated weapons, which would look cool._

“I’m not mad,” I said as I pulled up the map to select autopilot for home.

“Good, also you have a proper AI now. You don’t need to fuck with the manual stuff,” Libby replied.

I stopped pressing buttons. “Thirteen?” I asked.

“Yes captain?” came the purposefully synthetic voice of my ship.

“I want to go home. Can you land us in the usual dock and start a full, system-wide diagnostic, please?”

The ship chimed and the robotic voice said, “Yes, captain.”

“Okay, I’m not mad,” I told her.

Libby just smiled and took her feet off the console as the ship gently landed in a docking bay.

“Come on, you need a walk before Ba’an sees the state you’re in!”

💠

The apartment wasn’t much of a walk from the dock. There was a brief discussion about one day setting up a Fold and just leaving Thirteen in geo-stationary orbit, but Libby couldn’t get clearance for that and the power requirements for that kind of distance was quite mad.

We walked through the morning sun as the rain drizzled lightly. We stayed under building canopies wherever possible and just quietly basked in Central’s glow.

“What’s in the bag?” I asked.

“Gifts!” Libby replied.

“Why? You’ve not even been anywhere. You have had an avatar at the apartment the whole time we have been away!”

She screwed up her face and said, “Gifts!” again, as if I had misunderstood her.

We entered the apartment building. I had only been gone just over a week and the lobby now looked like a Follower recruitment office!

Doors waved as we entered but looked distracted. I think he was humming. A robed Follower came scurrying over. “Doctor Michaels, have you brought a guest? Is this a new initiate?”

“No, Robert, this is Lea Ra-Kay. She lives here,” Libby explained. I made for the Fold. Libby handed off her bag to me as I did. I assume she was going to talk to the Followers.

The silver door opened, and the white light of the Fold blinked on. “I’m sorry for not recognising you, miss Ra-kay,” the little guy said as I stepped away. I liked the Followers. They were good people working hard to make a difference, but they were annoying sometimes.

I stepped out of the Fold into Jon and Libby’s apartment. Libby’s other avatar took the heavy bag from me.

Ba’an appeared next to me, like he had been waiting there. He hugged me. He always hugged me when I got back, right before he kissed me.

He kissed me. There was something about kissing Ba’an, a sincerity to it that I had never felt before. He didn’t just want me, he loved me. We had fallen for each other fast, but it didn’t appear to be wearing off. People usually stopped loving me way before now.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do in a relationship like this. The only people I knew who had something like it were Jon and Libby. I didn’t even know other people could have it.

“Welcome home Lea. I missed you,” he said, cradling my shoulders and looking into my eyes with a gaze that made sure that I knew he was serious. Men had looked at me before, lots of men looked at me, but usually with lust. Being looked at with love was something I wasn’t comfortable with, not yet.

I felt my cheeks flush and let go of a smile that I couldn’t keep inside. I hugged back.

We sat on the oversized red sofa under the vast window and the hugging resumed. There was a kiss or two to accompany it too.

Libby sat next to us. This was a different avatar, this one dressed casually in yoga pants and an oversized shirt. It didn’t matter, it was all her. She started emptying little boxes out of her bag.

“Good trip?” Ba’an asked me.

“Oh, don’t pretend you didn’t ask Libby how I was, every day!”

He smiled. “I’m not a stalker!” he said with a pointy grin.

Libby looked up at us, then back at the boxes she had in front of her.

“Libby told me every time you asked. The exact moment!” I said with a schoolgirl grin.

“You told on me!” Ba’an exclaimed to Libby with pretend surprise.

She looked up. “Yes, but I got you a gift to say sorry!” she said. Handing him one of her little boxes.

She tossed one to me, too. “You got me a gift?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I missed you!” she replied with a pout and a wink.

“Missed me, you didn’t leave me alone for the entire week!” I said with just a touch of actual annoyance. She had been eyeballing my drinking like it was an issue. She just worried too much.

“Open them!” she said. She tapped the coffee table to open its interface. “Jon, Lea’s back!” she said as we struggled with the boxes.

Jon appeared through the Fold just as I was getting the box open.

He walked over to Libby and kissed her forehead. “Welcome back, my love!” he said. They were so cute. Libby had an avatar with him all week. She had literally not been anywhere, and Jon still missed her!

“Lea! Missed you too, buddy!” he said, leaning over the table to hug me. Jon was great.

“I got you a gift!” Libby said, putting a box on the table next to her. Jon had already gone to the kitchen. He emerged a moment later with two bottles of beer and an Elix. He handed Ba’an and I the beers and supped on his Elix.

“A gift!” he exclaimed, using it as a reason to kiss Libby again.

He opened his box with ease, instantly turning it the right way up and using just the right pressure to pull the lid off. Always smooth Jon!

All three of us looked into our boxes with confusion. We looked at each other and pulled out the little devices. We each had a small purple cube with a long white button on the top. It looked like a single piano key.

“It’s just what I always wanted! I love it!” Jon exclaimed, with no idea at all what it was.

We put the little toys on the table.

“I know, you have no idea what it is. You can’t! Doors and I invented it yesterday. It took all day. I had to pop out last night to get them fabricated. Used Mercia’s military grade machine shop to do it. It’s a very complicated design!” she explained.

We looked at them with interest.

“Jon, go first! Then you’ll all see!” she added.

Jon shrugged and pressed the key.

The room fell away as it was replaced with a cacophony of ideas and images, complete with sounds and motion; there was even a smell. My heart sang.

The colours started as a wave, as if they were being projected from the device. It had looked like holographic smoke at first, then it exploded into a rainbow as the smell of Canto’s trees filled my nose. Lines of colour, all rippling and moving together in a way that defied vision, danced in front of me.

The music that came from the lines of light sounded like an electric guitar that was playing a hundred different songs all at the same time. It wasn’t an assault on my senses though; it was a wave of emotion that filled my soul and warmed my heart. All the songs somehow harmonised, even though I knew they couldn’t.

I stared at the hologram, if that’s what it was; it grew to encompass the entire room around me. In the middle of it all, an image of Libby appeared with her purple eyes smoking and she stood proud and tall.

I had seen it before; this was the moment she had discovered the AI-web on Basilica and was given a glimpse into her own past life.

I felt a wave of emotion. Something deep within me wanted to cry with love for my friend but also wanted by cry with pain from my world being attacked. I wanted to cry with joy for the things I was seeing and for the horror of the memories it stirred.

The image grew as the camera zoomed in. Her eyes were sparkling with the entire universe. Then, as quickly as it started, it popped out of existence and the smoke was sucked back into the side of the little box.

Jon looked at Libby. “What was that?” he asked in gleeful shock.

“It was beautiful!” I said, in stunned awe.

“It was amazing!” Ba’an added, in just as much shock as the rest of us.

Libby smiled. “Doors insisted on calling it a Pianyes.”

“A what?” Jon asked, still a little buzzed by it.

She laughed. “We started off by trying to create the ultimate piano, you know? Like an abstract ideal of what a piano was. At some point we went too far, and he decided it was a pian-yes, not a pian-no… get it?” There was no way such a terrible name was Doors’ idea. This was firmly a Libby joke. She wasn’t funny.

“How, how did it do that? What did it do?” I asked.

“Well,” Libby began. “It takes the entire contents of the brain at the moment the button is pressed and uses a smart gas to create smells and add nonvisual motion. The light effect is a tiny holographic emitter. The music is generated by the brain waves with a single purpose AI to harmonise it. It basically summarises you, as a person and then pulls out one thing that means more to you than anything at the time you press it.” She kissed Jon on the cheek. It must have been nice for her to see a vision of herself. Even without him knowing what it did, Jon was thinking of her above all else.

“There was an emotional thing it did too! How did you do that?” I asked.

Libby looked confused. “I didn’t use any intrusive technologies. It’s just a combination of movement, sound and lights.”

“Oh, my gosh Lea, did you have a feeling? That’s not like you!” Jon joked with a grin.

“It is very impressive, Libby. I have seen nothing like it before!” Ba’an said, moving the conversation away from my feelings, thankfully.

“Well, it works for Bio-statics, so I assume humans too, but does it work on Vampires?” she asked.

Ba’an gave us an excited look of resolve and pressed the button on his little Pianyes. I hated that name.

The smoke left the side of the machine and an electric guitar started to play in the distance. It seemed like nothing else was happening. Then, as if it was waiting just long enough to have the maximum effect, the hologram lit like an explosion.

We were shown a highway that was being created with the same moving lines of colour that we had seen in Jon’s experience. The road was in a desert. The view showed the motion of travelling down a road that bisected the land as far as the eye could see. Faster and faster the road went by, like we were in a ship heading for TD speeds.

The guitar was being played in a way I hadn’t heard before. It was being played with emotion and drive and passion. It sounded harsh and metallic, but also epic and meaningful.

The smell, this time, was of oil and engine. Oh! It smelled like the engine room on Basilica. As the crescendo of music and vision reached its peak, the road ended. We were in space. There was a single planet in the centre of our field of view. It was Earth, but it was on fire. My feelings welled up, and I started to cry for the love Ba’an had for the Humans he had shepherded for so long as their leader. This was his fear, his loss and, on some level, his grief, all in a single image. Even with all that, it was love.

The hologram dropped away around us until all that was left was the planet. Then it left in a wisp of smoke.

Ba’an was just sitting there, with his hand on the single while key. He was far too stoic to show the depth of what he felt. He simply lifted his hand away from it and said, “Thank you, Libby. Thank you for that.”

I knew how much it had hit a nerve for him and I hugged him tightly. My own tears were enough for both of us.

Libby looked shocked at us. “This was supposed to be a fun little toy. I didn’t intend for it to be so personal. I’m sorry. We must have got something wrong!” she said apologetically.

“No!” Ba’an said sternly. “Libby, this thing you have created is beautiful. You have created something real, something honest and deep. I’m not sure what it is, but I needed it! Thank you.”

 She smiled, though, a little melancholy.

“Your turn, Lea,” Jon said, getting up to find more drinks.

“No. I don’t want to know what it has for me. And I certainly don’t want anyone else knowing what it has for me.”

Ba’an’s embrace got a little tighter; he understood.

💠

I dropped Basilica out of QD speed with a frankly remarkable precision, coming to a complete and instant stop only ten meters from the new orbital station.

The proximity alarms were screaming. I probably scared the shit out of them. I was usually good at this, but with a ship that responded like this one. I was amazing.

“Stop showboating!” Ba’an shouted from his spot in the middle of the room. There was a large rail that was supposed to be behind a captain’s chair, given that this was now a Follower ship, and the crew took orders from Ba’an or David, with equal enthusiasm, they had agreed a captain’s chair sent the wrong message. They had got the rail padded for leaning against with slightly more comfort though.

I handed off final control to Libby. Who was acting as this ship’s computer. She would handle the last few meters to get us docked. I was quite capable of moving something this big with the precisions required, but station rules wanted it done by an AI. Most pilots who tried it scratched the shit out of the docking clamps.

I stood up and stretched. It hadn’t been a long flight, but I hadn’t been home an hour before I found myself back in a flight seat. I had totally forgotten we were taking Basilica to Forge. That’s why Libby had wanted us back to Central on Monday. It was my own fault; I didn’t complain.

I looked down at the planet. It was looking better and better every time I came back. The crashed cities were being cleared now; the rebuilding was under way. The government had decided to leave Steel where it fell. It was the largest of the cities and the damage that had been done when it fell was something I couldn’t think about. The government made it safe and cleared out the dead. But they left the massive thing where is lay. A reminder for future generations about what was lost that day.

I flashed back to the sky-fall. I was in Thirteen; the world ended around me. We were sent into the dark ages while I watched and did nothing. I don’t think I would ever be the same after what I saw that day. No Brick would.

Jon told me a few weeks ago that he saw it in a vision from Aygah. That he saw a tiny sliver of what I must have seen. He cried when he told me. I wished I had only seen it in a dream; the memory of dreams faded. I had to live with what I saw, forever.

💠

I walked up Thirteens ramp, past all the cargo on Basilicas cargo bay. The lights were already on. This meant that someone was aboard. Basilica was a ship filled with Followers and friends; I still checked my sidearm was charged as I walked towards the stairwell. Someone was on my ship, without me knowing and that could be a problem.

Libby was in the Flight chair, Jon at sensors, his cute little bodyguard, Ria, was next to him.

“Hey guys. Has my ship just become a place to hang out now?” I asked. “It’s not a damned bar!”

“No, but we know it’s your first time down to the surface, since… you know. So, we’re coming with you,” Jon informed me.

“I suppose Ba’an put you up to this?” I asked.

“Yes. Obviously, I did. None of your friends are emotionally stable. They never would have even thought about it without me,” Ba’an said, appearing behind me in the doorway, slipping his arms around my waist.

The ship’s engine started, and we glided out of Basilica’s cargo bay. I was never happy when someone else flew my ship, but I had a feeling on this trip, Libby may have been better suited.

I had been back into orbit a few times since the station had been delivered. It was good of Sol to gift such a massive station to my people. It had been dragged into orbit by one of the new Kingdom-class ships and it was armed to the teeth. It had really made the difference, giving us somewhere to coordinate the repair efforts from, and a functioning space dock helped more than anyone realised it would.

The Vampires had sent over a hundred of their best construction teams, with all the equipment they could spare. They were the reason we were making such fast progress towards getting our planet functional again.

Elves were the last to send aid to us, but we all understood why when it arrived. They took their time to prepare it, but when we saw an orbital farm come through the Warp people cried in the streets. The damned thing made our orbital cities look small and had ready-to-harvest crops under its gigantic Glass energy dome. It would go a long way in keeping us fed. They even provided some people to farm it, until we were ready to do it ourselves.

Most of the Younger races in our territory had sent gifts too. Blankets, food, usual humanitarian stuff, but sadly, they lacked the technology to really move the needle for us. Still, it was nice that they wanted to help. They had always been our responsibility to protect, for now they were on their own. I worried about them; we all did.

I was deep in thought; I think I was trying to distract myself from the trip. We were supposed to drop the first delivery off to one of the freshly rebuilt surface docks. Basilica had plenty of storage but not any big shuttles. It couldn’t land either, so Thirteen was the ideal mule to drop off supplies. Our cargo bay was packed with shit load of Cure-all. Sol alliance was going to be sending some, but was still sorting out the bureaucracy. Libby just ordered it herself; we had it in four days. Sol gov was still trying to decide which contractor to use. It was nonsense. Still, they meant well.

Libby put Thirteen down gently in a spot next to a loading team who were waiting for us. There were some people in suits waiting too, politicians. Ba’an would deal with them.

💠

We let the loading team start getting the pallets off the ship. We headed down the ramp to greet people waiting for us.

Ba’an took point, this was his skill set. “Good evening gentlemen, or is it morning, local time? I’m honestly not sure.”

One of the men shook his hand. A short man with lightly tanned skin and rippling muscles, that you could see even under his tailored suit. Obviously one of my people because he was too easy on the eyes to be anything else. He had long grey hair that he left free and was so clean shaven I wondered if he had ever even had stubble. He, as all adults of my race did, would look mid-twenties to a human. I could tell from the way he conducted himself and the confidence he had in himself that he was at least as old and me, and probably then some.

“President Ba’an Ty, it’s an honour to meet you,” the man said. The others around him were just as eager to shake his hand as the first man.

“Pleasure to meet you all. It’s just plain old Ba’an now though,” he said, tuning on the warmth in his voice up a little and altering his body language to seem stoic, but sincere. He was so fucking good at this, and it had only been a ‘hello.’

“Yes, yes, but still… Ba’an Ty. I never thought I would end up in the same room as you! And now here I am, shaking your hand!”

Ba’an grinned at the man. “Well, President Ro-Bon, you are a far more famous man than I, and you have a far harder job than I ever did, I assure you!” Ba’an said. Of course, he recognised him!

President, Ro-Bon. This was the man who had been put in charge of my world. Most of the government had been killed when the sky-cities fell. This man was the mayor of one of our moon colonies. He was well on his way to becoming the President one day, though, now he had skipped a few steps. I hadn’t realised our little humanitarian run would get the attention of the President.

“And this must be Miss Lea Ra-kay?” he said, putting a hand out to me.

“Ugh!” I stammered. “Yes. Mister president sir,” You would think dating the former president of Sol would make me better at talking to politicians. It didn’t.

“Miss Ra-kay. It’s an honour to meet you… all of you, actually.”

Jon shrugged; Libby smiled. Ria thinned her eyes at the suited men. I wasn’t sure what she thought was going to happen here. The president of the Brick cooperative would not be a threat to Jon. She took her job as guardian far too seriously.

“I made a point of coming here when I heard which ship was making the drop off,” the President said. “Because I wanted to personally thank all of you. I had hoped Doctor Atkinson would be with you as well.”

“We’re just doing what we can, President,” Ba’an said. While it was a politician’s answer, it was also, in this case, the truth.  

“No. If you’ll excuse me, that’s horse shit!” he said. What! I was more than a little stunned at this language. He shrugged at our shock and continued.

“It was miss Ra-Kay who got her ship back online and was the first new star in the sky after the fall. She gave hope to everyone who saw it, hope that civilization was still out there. Then, she risked her own life and chased down the thing that was killing our world. I hear that without this ship and her skills as pilot, the Follower ship would not have been able to destroy the Thinker attackers. You literally saved us all.”

I was touched by what he said, but I had agreed with myself that I wouldn’t cry today. I wouldn’t cry when I saw the horror of the remaining deviation. I wouldn’t cry when I saw the beauty of everyone rebuilding and I wouldn’t cry when everyone told me they knew that I just watched when the sky fell.

“I…” I had nothing.

“Any of that untrue?” he asked us all.

I had expected Ba’an to take the question for me, but he just looked at me. All the people in suits did too.

“I… I didn’t do a lot. It was Libby and Jon who did…” I felt a lump in my throat.

“I read all the reports, Miss Ra-Kay. All of them. I know exactly what happened. I even saw some of the video footage of the space battle. The recordings from the communications, and the medical reports that were made after.”

He looked at me for an answer.

“I… I couldn’t do anything. When it all happened. I just watched. Everyone else was dying, I was safe. I couldn’t open the door to let them in. I wanted to. I’m so sorry.” They knew I just watched. He knew. The president knew I just watched when everyone else died. Then, as soon as I got a chance, we flew away. The rest was Libby and Jon. 

“Miss Ra-Kay. I am here specifically because I understand your actions and motivation.”

He was going to arrest me_. He was being nice, but I needed to face trial_. I should have opened the door. Should have got people inside. I could have saved lives. I didn’t. I was beaten and scared, and I was too interested in getting the ship to work than to opening the door. He was still talking.

“Miss., we don’t have the time or the resources right now to give you what you deserve…”

Oh, my gosh, was he going to shoot me? Was this treason?

“I hope you understand…” his voice faded into the background. I flashed back to being on Thirteen and watching the death rain down.

He put his hand in his jacket pocket. I knew it was coming. This is what I deserved. I hoped Libby and Ria didn’t stand in the way. They would react before the others; they were fast enough to save me. I hoped they knew that I wanted to take the punishment for what I had done.

“… So here is,” he said, opening a small box.

I had missed a lot of what he was saying. Everyone was smiling. Shit! What had I missed?

I leaned forward and looked into the tiny box. It was a rank badge. “What?” I asked. Realising I had checked out.

Ba’an held my hand. “Lea. The president just told you he’s made you a Free-General.”

“What!” I explained. I had missed more than I realised.

I was stunned. I looked at the president. I think I was in shock.

A Free-General was a rank that they gave. The ‘free’ part meant free, as in, not assigned to a task. ‘General’ as in General… as in a very high-ranking military officer. I would have rank’s power and a security clearance with none of the responsibility.

“I…” yep. Had nothing again.

“I know your history in the Sol military, and how you dodged promotion for a decade so you could fly ships. I also know the company you keep, and I know we need to cut through red tape right now. Miss Ra-Kay. On behalf of all the Brick people of Forge, the outer colonies, and the Younger races which we serve… Thank you for your service.” He handed me the box and saluted.

I was stunned. I had expected to be arrested. To be punished of behalf of all the people who I failed to help. I did not deserve the Brick equivalent of the ‘Defender of the Earth’ commendation.

“Sir,” I pulled myself together. “I don’t deserve this. I just did what I had to, and there was a lot more I should have done. I could have saved a lot of people if I had have made better decisions. Sir, mister president… sir.” I stood straight as he waved a hand.

“Miss Ra-Kay. That’s bollocks!” he began. Ria gasped. He smiled at her and continued. “I know how the war ended, I know all the actions that were taken, and I read all about Aygah,” he said, as he glanced at Jon. “You all did more for this world than even I ever could. Take the damned pin and use the rank to make sure nothing stands in the way of helping people!” he said with a sincerity that matched Ba’an’s.

He looked me right in the eye and put a hand on my arm. “Miss Ra-kay. Every one of us feels like we should have done more. We all feel the guilt. I can tell you for certain, the whole of the government read the reports about you and your friends. You did nothing wrong. You’re a fucking hero and we recognise you as such.”

I suppose I would cry today.

💠

We had been back on Basilica for a few hours. We had done the last delivery to the surface, got a list of things that Forge was short on and promised to be back next week with at least some of the things on the list. This would be an expensive trip for Libby. Most of the AI cores on the surface were fried after the attack. They had requested a hundred, just to get basic infrastructure working again. Even Libby with all hear wealth would be hard pressed get a hundred high end AI cores delivered in a few days.

The list also requested portable Fold platforms, generators, and Circlet repeaters.

My people didn’t expect her to provide the whole lot. It had been posted on the network as a wish list of sorts, the things that Forge needed to return life to normal. Libby had taken it as a shopping list and was working down it with every trip.

I was just starting the pre-flight checks when the communication chime sounded. There was no one at the communication station. David left the command rail and answered it himself.

“You have reached Basilica; how many we be of service?” he said with a smile.

“Oh!” he said a moment later. He threw the communication onto the main screen at the front of the bridge.

The president’s face appeared on the screen.

“Doctor Michaels, Elizabeth, is she available?” he asked, skipping the greeting. He looked emotional and his eyes were puffy.

Libby’s ship-avatar formed in the centre of the bridge, walking towards the screen. She started as a purple outline and then filling in, looking almost solid in a matter of moments, “Yes, mister President. How may I help you?” she asked, coming to a stop next to my flight chair.

“You distributed some music boxes, toys, to the local children while you were on the surface. I think you called them yes-pino’s?”

“Pianyes. I had a crate of them given to the children, yes. Is everything alright?”

Alight! Doctor, I have just used one of these music boxes, a few minutes ago. My god, I have never seen anything so beautiful in all my life. I cannot express how grateful I am to have seen what it showed me. Thank you, thank you so much!

He actually looked like he was about to cry.

“I’m glad you liked it. I’ll bring another shipment of them next week. I’ll make sure to get you your own, mister president.”

“Yes, please. And really… thank you so much, I’m not sure you realise how much you have helped us. These things, they are just magical!”

He smiled, fighting back tears, he closed the Screen.

I looked up at her with a raised eyebrow.

She grinned at me, “And there was me, worried they wouldn’t even work for Bricks.”

💠

It was quarter to midnight, Central time. I had been up almost the whole day and was glad to get back to my room on Thirteen with a bottle of old brown-tingly in my hand. Ba’an was already asleep.

I looked at the stupid Pianyes on the table by the window. I took a swig from my bottle and pressed the damned button. Let’s see what it would show me…

Chapter 3