Life on-board the Younger Brother Pear has become less relaxed now that Mark Daniels roams its halls. He is at times congenial, but more often than not he can be a real jerk. He's a fast learner, but he doesn't have much interest in anything other than guns and shooting things. He ties up the holobooths playing Shoot-Out! into the wee hours of the night. Neither Doc nor Thunderhorse like playing with him, not only because he always wins, but he's also a real prick about it.

Around the ship he's very resentful of the hover sentry that perpetually follows him. He's not allowed below Deck Two unless there's a medical emergency. The time he spends out of the holobooth he spends on the Observation deck staring at the Earth. He's found taking a dip in the pond to be a favorite activity, since the Hover Sentry doesn't like to follow him over the water. Not that it can't, it's just that its risk assessment algorithms cause it to stay on shore and fly around to the edge closest to Daniels. He often plays with the thing by staying in the center of the pond and swimming in small enough circles to cause it to zip around to the other side of the pond and back. Sometimes he pretends to shoot at it.

Although he's a prisoner, Mark has never had it so good. He says this often. Free hot, exotic meals, alcoholic beverages of any nature and quantity, showers everyday, movies, books, video games, air conditioning; hell, even flushing toilets are a luxury to him. The one thing it lacks however...

"Women!" Mark proclaims over a frosty, cold beer.

"Excuse me?" Doc asks, looking up from his datapad. He's been studying the ship's cargo manifest.

"The only place this thing needs is women!" he slurs.

Thunderhorse snorts at him. "You would not know what to do with one."

"Says you, injun." His insult is lost on Thunderhorse. He tries harder. "The only girl you was ever with is that old mare of yours."

Doc has been coaching Thunderhorse on how to take an insult without killing anyone. "No, you are the horse fucker!" It's not going well.

"Settle down, you two," Doc says, calmly.

"Hey, what say we take the shuttle down to the surface and get us some girls. How 'bout it? A night in New York? Or Pariee?"

Doc admits a trip to the surface would do well to break the monotony of being on the ship. But since the autopilot is gone, no one, not even Steve, can pilot the Pu. "Sorry, I don't think we're going anywhere anytime soon."

"So we just sit up here and yank our chains?"

"'Fraid so."

"Where's that whore-machine, anyway? The Maid? I think I'll have a little time with her."

Thunderhorse rockets to his feet, "You will not have her! She is mine."

Mark stands up too. The hover sentry's red alert lights begin to flash, but no sirens yet. "She's tired of you. She told me so. She said you ain't worth the ten dollars you paid her."

"She will not lie with you, maggot!" Thunderhorse yells. The second sentry can be seen circling the hallway outside the galley, red light flashing.

Doc interjects. "She can't talk. She can't feel. She's a machine, and a broken one at that. Now, both of you, sit down and drink you damn beer."

Mark and Thunderhorse stare at each other intently. The hover sentry picks up on the tension and stress levels and sounds a single police-siren "WHOOP" alert. The second sentry responds and enters the galley.

Mark has learned of the effectiveness of tazers already, and backs down. Thunderhorse smiles in percieved victory, but also backs off and sits down when the sentries turn their attention to him.

"Come to think of it," Doc ponders, "I haven't seen the Maid in a while."

"She was not ghost-fucking last night," Thunderhorse confirms.

"It's cause she's sick of your ugly-" Mark doesn't get to finish his sentence before Thunderhorse leaps at him. Mark slides away from the bar and jumps from the stool, ready.

The hover sentries "WHOOP" in sudden alert. They fly between the two and synchronously zap them both. The two yelp in pain and try to flee to opposite sides of the galley as the two drones use their pain-inducing microwave emitters to drive them apart. Eventually, they both hit the floor. Thunderhorse takes a table and chairs with him. The sentries let up.

Dr. Ritenrong enters the galley.

"What the hell's going on up here?"

"He started it!" yells Mark.

"They're at each other's throats, Steve. We need something to do before they both kill each other out of boredom," Doc explains.

"Well, we've got something now. I've completed the analysis of the pipe. It's time-line course hasn't been altered much by Judge Olden's interference. We need to return it to the surface and jump in."

Dr. Ritenrong takes Mark's stool as he joins Doc at the bar. Thunderhorse and Daniels collect themselves and join the others.

"How do we get to the surface without the Autopilot?" Doc asks. "I thought you didn't know how to fly the shuttle."

"I don't, but Veronica does."

Mark's eyes light up. "Who-"

Just then, the Maid walks into the galley. She's no longer wearing her maid outfit, but is instead wearing the autopilot's flight suit.

She walks confidently up to the men. Her bow-legged wobble is gone. "I'm Veronica," she introduces herself, extending her hand towards Doc.

He shakes it. "Doc. Pleased to meet you."

"My maiden! You have returned to me!" exclaims Thunderhorse, extending his arms to embrace her. She decks him. Hard. "Oof!" he cries.

"I'm not your maiden, oaf." She hits him again. Thunderhorse is dizzy and punch drunk. "That's for taking advantage of me when I was broken."

Mark is laughing his ass off. She hits him, too.

"Hey! What was that for?!" he cries, holding his bruising cheek.

"I heard what you said about me. I'm not your pleasure-bot. I'm no one's pleasure bot." She crosses her arms and leans up against the bar.

"So, professor," Doc stammers, "what exactly is going on?"

"Oh, I reprogrammed the Maid. It turns out her cranial unit has about three thousand times the capacity of the Autopilot. So I re-tooled her extremities, wiped her memory, re-installed the basic operating systems and plugged in the autopilot programming. She took to it quite quickly. I think her genetic system reconfiguration hardware has reached a state of semi-virtual sentience."

"... in English?" Doc asks.

"The memory wipe that cleared her programming burns revealed some dormant coding. She's become sentient. A living, feeling, emotional being in all outward respects."

"Well, happy birthday!" Doc toasts, raising his glass. Steve raises his, too, and Mark, cautiously. They drink.

"This kind of thing happens all the time," continues Dr. Ritenrong. "When you reach a certain threshold of computing capacity and genetic algorithms, it's only a matter of time before the machine finds a configuration that brings it to life, as it were. All it takes is a sufficiently complex program. This ship is that and then some."

Doc is still a bit curious. "So, if your memory was wiped, how do you remember Thunderhorse's, er..."

"Raping me?" Veronica finishes his sentence matter-of-factly.


"My brain works on an input-interrogation learning system. Feed it information, and it generates questions relating to that information, which prompts more input, and another layer of questioning. When I was in the Professor's lab learning the ships systems, I began to question why I was learning it. When I got the answer back, I questioned my own existence."

"A sure sign of sentience," chimes the Professor.

"I asked the computer 'Why am I here?' It's response was to detail the history of my manufacture, my time with the Berkley crew, being purchased by Dr. Ritenrong, and even Thunderhorse. When I saw what was done to me, I got angry."

"Micropneumatics and Angry do not mix well," Dr. Ritenrong interjects once again. "Just ask the computer terminal in my lab."

"Sorry about that," Veronica apologizes.

"It's okay, it's your job to fix those kinds of things."

"What if I don't want to?" she asks, hands on hips.

"Well, we're going to have to work something out, now, won't we. This ship needs a pilot, and you're the most qualified being in this sector of the galaxy, in this era at least. The job offers free room and board, free meals or power-core charging as the case may be, free medical or repairs, free entertainment, and of course, excitement, adventure, and really wild things."

"And if I don't want the job?" she asks.

"Then you're free to go to Earth and try to fit in with the humans. You won't be able to find a power outlet for another 70 years at least."

"So I have no choice?"

"You do have a choice. Staying with us and helping out is the better, more logical choice. You are no longer the android Maid, you are Veronica Autopilot: Living being. You are free to explore and expand your talents. You are free to do as you please. Just don't forget we're here to help you, and you're here to help us. Agreed?"

Veronica smiles. "Agreed." She shakes Dr. Ritenrong's hand.

"Welcome aboard," he says. "Now. Gentlemen. And lady. We have a task to perform. Tomorrow we will be returning to Earth to return the corncob pipe to its proper place in time. We will then be traveling through it into the year 2199. We should be arriving at the Orbital College of Arts and Sciences. Veronica, after dropping us off on the surface, you are to return to the Younger Brother Pear and follow the flight plan I've already laid out. Once you reach the outer Oort cloud, power down. We'll meet you back here in orbit in about three hundred sixty years."

"Hell of a way to start an existence, Steve." She says.

"Sorry, but the asteroid fields are in flux too much through the 22nd century because of the war. I can't guarantee any wormholes through that era. It's safer if you just hide beyond the heliopause for a while."

"Gentlemen, once Veronica picks us up again, we'll be on our way to Milwaukee. We've got to determine why Alyss Valia does not exist on this time line."

"Alice who?" Mark asks, his interest piquing at the female name.

"She's a pilot. We need to recruit her."

"Excuse me, but that's my job now. Why do we need another pilot?" Veronica asks, loudly.

"Er, well..." Steve stops to think. "You're still learning, and even with you we're shorthanded on crew. We need all the help we can get. We also need an experienced pilot to help us stop the warship that will cause the destruction of the galaxy in the distant future. As a matter of fact, we need the best pilot in all history to do it. And that is Alyss Valia."

"But she doesn't exist..." Doc says.

"Yes, well, we'll have to fix that." Dr. Ritenrong takes a drink as he tries to suppress a worried look from his face. "Anyway, we may have some trouble getting the pipe back to it's proper place in history."

"How's that?" Doc asks.

"First of all, there's Captain Daniels here. We can't take the hover sentries to Earth so we'll have to escort him ourselves. Once we're on Earth, we don't want Daniels to escape us, so Doc will escort him into the pipe, to the future. Thunderhorse and I will return the pipe to the Brown family, then join you in the future. We should only be a few hours behind you, Doc, so just stay put until we arrive. Here, you'll need these."

Dr. Ritenrong produces a couple of cards from his lab coat. He hands them both to Doc.
One has a 3D holographic picture of himself on it, and the other has Mark's face. They read "OUSA Student ID."

"Student ID's. If anyone asks, you're attending a lecture on 19th century American society given by a Professor Zanathos Schoefield," Steve explains. "Any questions?"


Doc said...


"Is there any problem if I took the jeep?"

Pack*, and get to know Mark. Feel him out. Where does he stand? Is he excited about doing this? Is he a risk?

Get there and hang out and wait for Steve and Thunderhorse, try and stay put, and pass the time chatting. What does he want out of life? What makes him tick?

*Pack- (Assuming we are taking the jeep) Everything we can reasonably pack and still have room for us. If we are walking just the essentials.

Action: Read Emotions -1 chi.

Meta- Nice story! Really. I keep thinking of the Elvis Costello tune "Veronica". Looking forward to the next installment.


ERR said...

Perfect, because that's what Shelley named her after. This episode came about after it was pointed out to me, repeatedly and insistantly, that there were no women in this story.