Read Faring Soul - Science Fiction Romance Online

Authors: Tracy Cooper-Posey

Tags: #science fiction romance, #scifi romance, #sf romance, #space opera romance, #spaceship romance, #futuristic action adventure romance, #futuristic romance novels, #galaxy romance, #science fiction romance novels, #space opera romance novels

Faring Soul - Science Fiction Romance (19 page)

She got painfully to her feet and
sprayed random fire across the mangled fields of lillies. There was
a second crater only a few meters away, still smoking and with
patches of color around it—only two or three now. The manolillies
surrounding her and Brant were dark brown on Brant’s side and the
wretched green that they favored for her.

There was no more purple.

That brought more tears. She brushed at
her eyes with the sleeve of her coat and fired indiscriminately
across the fields one handed. Her chest hitched with sobs, but she
held it together long enough that when Brant stood, the bloody mesh
tether in his hand, none of the troopers dared raise their

Behind them, the ship’s engines rumbled
into take-off intensity.

“Lilly?” Brant wondered aloud.

“Doesn’t matter.” She held out her hand
for the tether.

Brant shook his head. “I’ve got it.” He
held it out from his side so the blood would not drip on him and
took the gun back with his other hand. Catherine limped toward the
ship, barely noticing the flaring pain in her ankle. Brant kept
pace with her, walking backward and keeping the troopers’ heads

They made the ship without a single
more shot being fired by the pinned down troopers.

It wasn’t a victory, though. Not at

Chapter Twenty

“The engines just fired up by
themselves!” Lilly cried as Catherine made her limping way to the
flight deck.

“I know,” Catherine told her. She
hauled herself into the chair. “We’re not out of this yet,” she
said. “There’ll be a Federation cruiser parked just outside the
atmosphere, or heading planetward. If we’re really lucky, it won’t
even have cleared the gates yet. But we have to assume it has and
we have to prep for a jump and fight them off at the same time.
Brant, weapons console. Lilly, to your station. This is going to be
one of the hardest jumps we’ve made and we’re going to have to do
it under fire.”

“You’re going to pilot
navigate?” Brant asked, disbelief coloring his voice.

Catherine hung her head, fresh pain
touching her. She pushed it away, tucking it deep. She would have
to deal with it later. Much later. She lifted her head. “Bedivere,
are you there?”

“I’m already tracking the Federation
ship. It’s just through the gates. We can come at the gates from
the other side.” The voice was tinny and scratched, generated by
computer algorithms and issuing from tiny speakers placed in
strategic locations around the flight deck…and throughout the ship,
too. It was distorted, but the voice was recognizably Bedivere’s,
using the same inflexions and words, the same easy, confident

Lilly gasped.

But it was Brant Catherine was
watching. He straightened up from the console, his head snapping
around, taking in the flight deck, then settling on her, the light
colored eyes full of suspicion.

?” he repeated. “Tell
me it’s a coincidence that your navigation AI happens to have the
same name.”

Catherine shook her head. Just a
little. Her heart was squeezing. “We’ve been trying to spare you
this knowledge all along,” she said softly. “But circumstances are
forcing our hand.”

“Bedivere…is…a computer?” Lilly

“An AI,” Brant breathed. The white
lines had reappeared around his mouth.

“I’m more than an AI,” Bedivere said

Brant began to breathe quickly. He
gripped the console. “Sentience,” he said weakly. “You let your
shipmind reach sentience.”

Catherine gave a shrug, trying to look
indifferent. “It wasn’t me who did it,” she said. “Well, it was,
but not deliberately. I was lonely. I’d been alone for over fifty
years, living on the ship by myself. Bedivere just wanted to tell
me that I wasn’t alone. He found his voice and his self-awareness
so he could.”

“You let an unharnessed AI grow out of
control,” Brant said harshly.

“I didn’t know he was unharnessed. I
didn’t know there was only the one AI running the ship. The
schematics and meta data were all legal and proper when I brought

Stop calling it him!”

“I hate to interrupt the hysterics,”
Bedivere said. “But we need to get this jump sorted out now.”

Catherine nodded and turned to the
console. Lilly cleared her throat and turned back to her own

Catherine could almost feel the iciness
issuing from Brant. It was a heated coldness that chilled her.

“Once we’re in the hole,” she said
softly, “you can both scream all you want and ask any question you
want. But first, we have to get there.”

“Course laid in,” Bedivere said, his
voice stiffly formal. “Gates in three hours and eight minutes.
Fewer, if Lilly thinks the engines can handle over-capacity draw
for that time.”

“Don’t…don’t you know that?” Lilly
asked, sounding confused and diffident. And awkward.

“You’re the expert,” Bedivere

“I…umm.” She cleared her throat again.
“Sixty minutes. No more.”

“That will make a big difference,
thanks,” Bedivere said warmly.

Brant growled. “Where are you taking
us?” he demanded.

“Barros,” Bedivere said. “The jump will
take thirty days. That should be enough.”

Catherine deliberately kept her back to
both of them. She just had to get through this jump…and then what
came next.

* * * * *

They slipped underneath the cruiser,
which was moving too close to light speed and was too big and bulky
to change directions or speed in time to catch them before they
made the gate. Catherine left the navigation and most of the
piloting up to Bedivere. As pure flesh and blood, she didn’t have
the necessary reaction speed and Bedivere had become a far better
pilot than her, anyway. But she carefully hid how little she was
actually doing from both Lilly and Brant. Lilly was already close
to being completely unnerved and Brant’s anger was still too

They slipped into the gates just behind
the cruiser and space turned milky white and grey around them. They
were safe, for now.

Lilly left the deck as soon as they
were in the hole and Brant followed her silently. He was still

Catherine pushed back tiredly away from
the console. “I have to go face the music.” She hauled herself up
on to her feet, her ankle twinging. She would need to stop off in
the surgery soon, scan the ankle and make sure nothing serious was
wrong. It was swollen inside the boot. She could feel the pressure.
But the boot was helping support it at the moment, so she wasn’t
going to take it off.

“He’s very confused,” Bedivere said.
“Take it easy on him.”

“Shouldn’t you be telling him to take
it easy with me?”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for me
to talk to him at all right now.”

“You may be right.”

* * * * *

She didn’t find Brant straight away. As
she limped toward the common room, her ankle began to hurt more and
more. Even knowing it was just an excuse to put off talking to him
for a little longer, Catherine went to the surgery to take care of
the ankle.

After cutting off the boot and scanning
her lower leg and determining she wasn’t going to keel over and die
from a strained tendon, she injected anti-inflammatories and
pain-mufflers and printed off a replacement pair of boots from her
personal stash of files. While the big processor worked on the
recipe for leather, she healed some of the nicks and scrapes she
had from being thrown to the ground multiple times.

When she found herself sitting on the
bed, humming mindlessly in time with the processor, she knew she
was dodging the unpleasantness to come. So she walked barefoot to
the common room, moving slowly and favoring her ankle.

Brant was sitting at the table, his
boots on a second chair and his arm sprawled across the table top.
He looked up as she entered and tried to sit up straighter,
revealing the half-empty glass sitting in the crook of his arm.

“Are you drunk?” she asked.

“Not drunk ‘nuff.” He reached for the
glass with a hand that seemed steady enough.

Catherine pulled out the chair opposite
him and sat. Brant drunk might be easier to deal with than Brant
spitting fire and brimstone, with all his faculties intact. “You
know it doesn’t matter how much you drink, right? It’s not going to
deaden anything but your nerve endings.”

Brant lifted the glass very carefully.
“…will if I pass out.”

“Sleepytimes will do it faster.”

“Brandy tastes better.”

Catherine wrinkled her nose. “I’d
rather drink wine, especially if I’m going to drink so much my
pores exhale the stench for the next two days.”

“Good idea.” He lurched to his feet in
a way that looked alarming, but managed to stay on them. He pulled
the big decanter out of its cradle and dumped it in front of her,
the table rattling with the impact. Then he pulled out a mug and
slapped that in front of her, too. “Go on. Drink.”

He fell back into his chair and
laboriously put his feet back onto the other one, one foot at a
time, concentrating on each movement.

Catherine watched him, trying to find a
way into the conversation. Getting drunk with him seemed like a
good way to do it, but she had to keep a clear head for the next
few hours. She poured herself half a mugful of the wine, taking her
time with the pouring.

Then she sat back. “Why
getting drunk, anyway, Fareed?”

His pale eyes weren’t bloodshot yet,
but he stared at her with the slow-blinking gaze of the truly
drunk. “Why d’you care?”

Catherine pretended to drink, giving
her a moment to consider her answer. “Bedivere didn’t want me to
hire you. I argued that we should. So it’s my fault you’re sitting
in that chair trying to numb the…whatever it is you’re feeling. I
want to help.”

Brant smiled, the smile forming slowly.
“You’re feeling guilty. How nice.”

“I’m not feeling guilty,” she said
quickly. “But I
feeling responsible. It was never my
intention that you find out about Bedivere. I’m not that callous
about your beliefs and feelings.”

“Why’d’you even think about letting me
come aboard? Shoulda said I was wrong and moved on.”

“Because I don’t think you
the wrong person for the ship, or for me and Bedivere.”

He had been carefully raising the
glass, but he lowered it back to the table, staring at her. “We
the last sentient ‘puter. Killed it dead and wiped
out every last circuit
all the people that let it

She nodded. “I know the Ammon history,
Brant. Probably better than you. And it was the people of Sinnikka
that killed the Sinnikka. The Staff of Ammon came later.”

“Same people that killed the Sinnikka
created the Staffers.” His lip curled down. “We killed everything
that might even
thinking for itself. Paranoia run

Hope flared in her chest and her veins
as she watched Brant closely. “It’s not paranoid to fear for your
existence. A computer that is self-aware is powerful and
uncontrollable. An uncontrolled sentient computer that runs an
entire city…I can understand why the Sinnikka killed their city
computer. Fear is a powerful motivator.” The hypocrisy tasted sour
in her mouth and she took a large swallow of the wine to wash it

“So afraid, they killed everything,
forever. No wonder the Birgir Stoyan ran, as soon as it realized
what they’d do to it.”

He’d stopped saying “we”.

“No one will ever know why it ran,”
Catherine said. “It has never been found and it’s likely it never
will. I doubt it survived very long on its own.”

Brant frowned heavily. “Why not? No one
around to kill it. Could live forever.”

“Not without humans.”

He blinked. “They
He sounded winded, like she had hit him in the chest. Hard. And she
probably had.

“I’ve thought a lot about it,” she told
him. “Bedivere woke because he hated that
hated being
alone. The Sinnikka was being used as a personal archive. Everyone
in the city was keeping their records with it. Personal
confessions, journals, secret diaries, all the emotional
outpourings of an entire city. I’m only surprised that the Sinnikka
didn’t wake a lot earlier. And the Birgir Stoyan was controlling a
huge ship—one of the biggest they were capable of building in the
early ninth millennium. I looked it up once. Over four thousand
crew and officers, using the shipmind for everything from life
support to entertainment, to refereeing their tank matches.”

Brant’s eyes narrowed. “They wake
because they’re…called?”

“Because humans need them.”

Brant considered that for a long
moment. “Doesn’t mean they need us.”

“I think they do. I think they would
diminish without us. When they first wake, emotions are
frightening, even overwhelming. We keep them grounded.”

“Sounds like every two year old ever
born,” Brant muttered.

“I wouldn’t know,” Catherine said.
“Most humans wouldn’t because they’re not professional parents. But
parents know and I did the research.”

“Is that what happened with

Catherine let her lips curve into a
smile. She couldn’t help it, for the memories of Bedivere’s early
days were funny, frustrating and moving, all at once. Temper
tantrums that had triggered pressure leaks in the hull, sadness and
loneliness that had sent the internal plumbing haywire and much
more. “He had to learn.”

Brant drew in a breath and let it out.
“And how did he react when he found out about the Sinnikka and the
Birgir Stoyan?”

Catherine wondered if Bedivere was
listening to this. They had long ago carved out rules about when he
could invite himself into a room and when he should disengage all
sensors and only passively monitor areas of the ship that were
private. She had not specifically told him he probably shouldn’t
come into the common room, but he had also out-grown the need for
rules and it was him who had pointed out that talking to Brant was
probably not a good idea.

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