The shuttle left an hour ago. I have yet to move. I should be moving. I accepted a job in maintenance – as a change and to help a stowaway – and there is never a shortage of repairs needed on a Docking Station. The list of items docketed for me to work on with Brin has been growing steadily for a couple of hours. I should be moving. I continue to stare where the shuttle was. I don’t have my projection up. I should. It would be polite. But I can’t bring myself to care that people are staring at me.
I am pretty sure at least one person I know says hello. I don’t notice, they don’t press it. Being a transfer has advantages: when you don’t have a projection up over your body of a normal, human-you, they see you for who you really are. In my case it’s a cylindrical shape on treads with a viewscreen on the top: 360 degree vision, when I want it, my ‘face’ visible in it to whoever I am talking to. Right now it is turned off, and I have all my limbs inside my chassis. The shuttle that left the Docking Station will return in 6 local days, 4 hours and 21 minutes now.
An impact staff poking me in the side gets my attention 12 minutes later.
“Hello? Station to Dar? Anyone home?” Brin says, offering up another poke. All hesitant, keeping herself a few steps away from me. She’s in her late teens, victim of a parental unit who decided to get creative in making their progeny into a weapon: her body can produce a disruption field capable of shutting down most any system it comes into contact with, if only for a short while. It doesn’t work on me, mostly because I’m very well shielded – you would be too if a basic EMP could murder you, and a disruption field was far beyond that – but she still keeps a few steps away in case it goes off without her controlling it.
“You didn’t turn it on.”
She snaps the staff closed and pockets it. “I was about to. You are late for work. I know I’ve only known you for a week, but you don’t do late without telling people. And apologizing. And working overtime after it. And probably feeling guilty for days. So?”
I head toward the elevator that leads to the lower levels faster than I need to.
Brin keeps up, saying nothing until we get into antigrav lift. “Look, I know I’m not good at any of this yet. I can help see when something is breaking, but you’re doing all the work fixing it and –.”
“It’s not about that.”
“If you’re not mad at me, why is your viewscreen off? I’ve never seen you do that.”
I flick it on, look at her. She looks back, waits. “Orien headed off to a course. Medics have to do those every so often: real autopsies of various traits, splices like you have. Learning what new and weird things people have. All of that.”
“So?” I say nothing, teeth digging into lower lips in the viewscreen, feeling my face flush. It gives too much away. “He’s gone on a trip and that happens, right?” she presses.
“He might not come back. He could – stay away. Change. People do that. I used to work on vehicles. Now I’m doing maintenance. Change happens.”
“That –.” Brin snaps her jaw shut and stares at me as we exit the lift. “You’re one of the first transfers. I’ve looked you up on the infoweb and you’re old and you’re worried he’s going to leave you?”
I head down the hallway. I don’t turn the viewscreen off, as much as part of me wants to.
“Dar.” I stop. Brin comes slowly around to stand in front of me. “We’ve passed one docket we should have looked at already.”
I check the infoweb, move back down the hallway and extend two limbs up to a ceiling panel. The lighting systems are always failing but the Station can’t get high-end ones or people take them apart and scavenge them for parts. The docking bays proper run on modern tech, the station itself sometimes ten years behind, with apps and linkages filled with enough errors that it must keep the head of maintenance awake at night wondering if someday the entire Station will just split in half or something.
I jiggle connections, snap it back into place, note data on the docket. Brin is in front of me, not moving.
She snaps a hand out to a doorway to the side; it opens to reveal an unused living space someone has been using to store a few old power cells. “In here. Now. Please.”
I enter, she follows and snaps the door shut behind us.
“I don’t know you. You don’t know me and I’m not old and I’ve never been properly in love because people run away when they find out what I can do. And have done.” Brin licks her lips. “I dated two years ago, for almost a month with a regular human. No splices, synthlimbs, no weird traits. From one of those ‘get back to Earth’ groups who thought I was norm-human too. It went beyond kissing, I lost control of – of me. Disrupted his brain. A brain is a system, is signals, is energy.” She doesn’t look away, trembling. “I don’t know what it did to him. I ran away. You think he’s going to do that?”
“No. Orien isn’t –.” I fall silent for a few moments, trying to find words. People say transfers aren’t human at all, but we can still fail words, fail language. Fail ourselves. “He’s not the kind to run away. He was a soldier before he became a medic. I’ve been with transfers before. Other transfers, for a time. But no regular human who wanted to be with me, not really. I keep waiting for him to realize it’s not going to work. For people to ask if he’s with anyone, him to explain it to them. To realize what they know.”
“Do you want him to go?” she says softly.
I shake my head in the viewscreen, but it’s not enough. “No.”
“But you’re the one who said, ‘Brin, if you think you’re a weapon that’s all you’ll be.’ If you think what you have with him is going to fail, then isn’t that the same thing?”
“It – I don’t know,” I say finally. And I don’t.
“Why don’t you want him to go?” she says, softer still.
“Because he’s my friend, because I care for him, because – because I would have waited there for his return, if you hadn’t come and got me. I care about Orien more than I do work, and I haven’t felt like that about anyone in a long time.” I gulp audibly through my vocal interface. “I’m terrified he’s going to wake up one day and go ‘what am I doing?’ and leave and it’s going to hurt so much but I can’t bear to do it first, to let him go, to-to-to...” I break off.
“What if he doesn’t? I’ve asked that, about Raoul. What if he’d been able to accept that my zapping his brain was an accident? What if he’d wanted to stay with me anyway? I ran away so I’ll never know at all. You love him, then?”
“Yes.” She doesn’t hear me until I say it a second time.
“Does he know?”
Brin blinks, then bursts out laughing at that and I can’t help but join in a moment later. “I think – I think everyone has to be told that, or they forget. Because everyone is worried, about who they’re with. About the other person waking up sane when love isn’t sane at all? You have to tell him you love him. Again. And again.” She almost pokes me in the viewscreen, pulls her finger back. “And have faith in him, that he’s as – as conflicted inside as you are – and thinks that is all worth it anyway. That what you are together is worth it.”
“You’ve thought about this a lot, then.”
She nods. I don’t point out she could probably find this Raoul easily through the infoweb, or I could do that if she couldn’t. I send a command to the door, which snaps open, head back into the hallway.
“What’s the next docket?”
She tells me, and I pretend not to notice how grateful she is I didn’t ask questions. I trust Orien. I’m trusting Brin a little. And they’re trusting me and it’s all a kind of faith and I can only hope it will be worth it. I send a message to Orien. Three words. No more. And then focus on work again.