I’m half-sleeping on the couch, listening to simulated nature when Dar comes home. He does his usual short pause, no doubt scanning the entire room and me as well, then comes over to the couch and extends a limb from his chassis to poke me in the stomach. I open my eyes, then pause. He has his projection up over his body, which he almost never does in our rooms unless he feels the need to punctuate comments with shrugs and the like. The projection looks entirely human: early 20s, mechanic with solid muscles, rough hands, a ready smile. His real body under it is a cylindrical shape on treads with limbs inside it, mind transferred into that a long time ago after an accident destroyed his body beyond repair.
I’ve become so used to the real him that I pause in turn. “Changed your projection and want some advice?”
“No.” He shakes his head and begins to pace in front of the bed, the projection entirely masking his treads as he moves back and forth. “I talked to Brin. She told me you told her to talk to me, but that she would have anyway. Maybe would have,” he adds. “She told me about the kind of weapon she was meant to be, for destroying entire starcruisers.”
“And?” I say as I sit up, stretching.
“And other things, Orien. A disruption field disrupts other fields. Including real gravity, not just the artificial kind. If you have the splice at the strength she does.” Dar bites into his lower lip. “I met someone with that once before; they almost killed me without even trying. Took out an entire starship, then a second one, and were finally cut apart from a distance by projectile weapons. Humans are so busy being scared – of hingari, or transfers like me – that it’s easy to forget just what can be done to a person. What a person can be turned into.
“Sometimes I think that’s why transfers still get made, you know. The technology has never improved: you take a brain, put it in a non-human body. For some reason it’s never worked with cloned bodies, and no one’s fixed that. We wonder about that, in the community. Privately. But it makes us an easy target, an old one: here is the human turned into the other. Fear them!”
He reaches down, presses a hand to my mouth, the limb under the projection cool and firm. “The hingari are alien, Orien. Seriously and entirely alien. But people are still scared of transfers because otherwise you’d have to look at what humans can be turned into. What can be done with an unlimited budget, a pliable genetic donor and a complete lack of ethics. Brin could disrupt power to an entire Docking Station once she matures. Maybe even a galactic-class ship.” He draws back and smiles, thin and bleak, a smile I’ve never seen on his face before. “And that’s nothing.”
I stand, reach out a hand and run it down the side of his projection gently. “Nothing?”
Dar licks his lips, then abruptly flicks the projection off, his face pale in his viewscreen as he stares at me in silence. His gaze flicks away from me in it.
I give him a gentle poke in his chassis. “You’re saying she could be dropped into the atmosphere of a planet, then? It has been done in a couple of wars I know of, but the cost isn’t that effective, not compared to terraforming equipment used on the atmosphere.”
“You’re still thinking too small,” he says, little more than a whisper. “Even Brin is. Even whoever made her is. When we splice people, we alter brains and bodies both. We change the way the mind functions. And we can put the mind into a transfer. Into a body tougher than mine. And you drop them into a star, and they disrupt light.”
“Making a star go nova.”
“Still too small.” He doesn’t move at all, viewscreen flicking off. “Increase the amount of people like Brin you transfer. Supernovas, link it together, the disruption spreads out. Light burns across space and goes out and everything falls with it.” His laugh is short, sharp. Choppy. Almost mechanical. “Sometimes I think the hingari have walled us away from most of hyperspace for our own good. For the sake of the rest of the universe.”
“Dar.” He doesn’t move. I step closer. “I never thought of that. But you think you’re the first person who has, transfer or human?” His viewscreen flicks on, his face a puzzlement. “Humans aren’t monsters, not even the worse of us. Or the best. There are limits to what anyone would do, no matter what they wanted. Brin was raised to be a weapon and ran away. I became a medic. You – are you.”
He gulps, then extends six limbs and wraps them tight about me. I hug him in turn, as hard as I can, feeling things shudder a little inside me. “If you don’t let go,” I finally murmur, “you’re going to break at least some of my linkages and have to fix me.”
Dar lets out a small laugh, lets go.
I grin and give his viewscreen a flick of a finger. “And that, right there? That is why the light will never burn out. Why we’ll never go as far as we fear we can.”
He grins in turn and gives me a light smack with a limb; I set other questions aside, flex a hand and begin to poke his chassis, sending small charges of energy that lead to surprised yelps and what follows is soft, private and creates a light all its own against the darkness of memories.