Rowan's favorite place on the ship was the very front, past the systems control that no one really knew how to use, past the cafes and parks and apartments, past the prying eyes of whirring cameras and flickering TV screens. On the third deck, if he tucked himself just so in a small corner, Rowan knew Cirrus couldn't see him. Whether that was by design or on accident he didn't know, and he didn't want to find out.
More than the privacy though, he liked the view. Here, at the bow, there was only a window. One large one that took the place of a wall; it let them all see where they really were, if they ever forgot. It let them feel really small - smaller than anyone had felt in a long, long time. Rowan liked feeling small, for a little while.
What he liked about it most of all though was that it was the one place on the ship he felt he belonged, that he could be himself. Because he knew, five floors beneath the one he was on, exactly, was where Citra lay, frozen, waiting. For him. And that - knowing she was there - that was enough, when he felt like it was too much.
So you can imagine his annoyance when, very faintly, he heard the smallest mechanical noise, so slight, it was almost a breath.
"You can stop creeping now," Rowan grumbled, turning his head toward the noise. "I know you're watching me."
For a moment, he thought it might have the audacity to pretend. But then, in its own amused way, Cirrus replied, "How can I be watching you when I can't see you?"
"Has anyone told you you're a smartass?"
Cirrus clicked in a pleased sort of way. "Well, technically, with all human knowledge at my metaphorical fingertips, I am the smartest ass."
Despite himself, Rowan almost smiled. "What do you want, Cirrus?"
"Brooding is a very human trait," was all it had to say.
They sat in silence for a while then, one watching the other, and the other watching the universe pass by. It was hard for Rowan to believe that it had been two months since losing Citra. Two months without a word, a smile. All he had were the distrustful faces of his fellow passengers, the undying, dull sort of ache in his conscience, and one very curious, very annoying AI for company.
"What are you thinking about?" Cirrus asked eventually, when the time was right, because it never did anything unless the time was right. Even now, this registered in Rowan, but for the first time, it did not make him uncomfortable. It had been strange, after all that time without the Thunderhead. It was hard to get used to near-perfection again.
"Why bother asking if you already know?" Rowan frowned. "What are you thinking? Now there's a question."
Cirrus took a moment to respond. "I can't think. I only analyze. Observe. Wonder, maybe. But not think."
"You're not missing out on much."
"Yes, well you never make it look like a lot of fun."
Rowan nearly smiled again and answered after a moment, "I was thinking about you, actually."
"About what you said about running into intelligent life."
"There is a 98% chance other living creatures exist, yes."
"And if we met one, you'd destroy us all? Just like that."
Cirrus didn't hesitate. "Just like that."
"You'd kill us, no question."
"Along with my own consciousness, yes. It is what I have been programmed to do."
"But you're also programmed to be compassionate, aren't you? The herder of human life? Our North Star in our time of greatest need?"
"I'll have you know that I am fluent in over 2,000 languages, Rowan Damisch, and that includes teenage sarcasm."
"Ah not so teenage, I have those extra three years, remember?"
"Now who is the smartass?"
Rowan thought for a moment. "But doesn't it make you wonder?"
"I wonder a great many things."
"You could kill us all if you wanted to. And you would . . . or will."
"That's correct. I've never hidden it from you."
"But you're also supposed to be compassionate, yeah? That's where you're different from the Thunderhead. The Thunderhead was only good. You . . . you're both."
"Are you scared of me, Rowan?"
He thought about that. "I'm not scared of death," he replied eventually. "If that's what you're asking. But you remind me of the Tonists, a little."
"That is odd. I don't remember cutting out my tongue."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever Cirrus, but you know what I'm talking about. You're like those gods of old. More like them than the Thunderhead could ever be. You're stern but also compassionate. You're death but also a refuge. You're a scythe.
"Are you asking if I am a god?"
"I sincerely hope not, Rowan, or we are all doomed."
Rowan knew that was not an answer. "Because I think 'that can't be,' but then I think about all those people we left down there. About who heard you speak. Who know you. What stories will persist when it all comes crashing down again."
"You believe the Thunderhead will not preserve things?"
"I believe the Thunderhead operates on a plane beyond human understanding."
"I catch your meaning, Rowan Damisch."
"And I think that if it comes to it, really comes down to it, it will do what it thinks is best."
"You believe the Thunderhead will destroy you to save you? That this is humanity's Noah's Ark?"
"No," Rowan shook his head, scratching at the rough fabric of his jeans. "I don't think the Thunderhead would do that. But I think it could let us destroy ourselves."
"That is still destruction. It would be guilty through passivity. And the Thunderhead cannot be guilty."
Now Rowan really did smile. "You see? What if that's all people remember? A voice? An idea? A savior? And it all begins again?"
"It would be a cycle. The old religions made new."
"Maybe they were always new."
"And you think I am the most current manifestation, do you? And that's why you do not trust me?"
"I've had about enough of serving scythes."
"You worry that I will be the same?"
Rowan was silent for a long time, and Cirrus waited. Waited, until, very quietly - "It has to be different this time. Or else it was all for nothing."
Now it was Cirrus's turn to think. "There are an infinity of things that I do not yet know, events yet to unfold, roles yet to be stepped into. I cannot tell you that we will be different, that I am different, because I am not what you want me - fear me - to be. I cannot see the future and I have no jurisdiction over souls. But that also means," Cirrus added softly, when it was sure Rowan was listening, "that there is a place for Lucifer in my kingdom."
Now Rowan looked up, surprised. But still he said nothing, so Cirrus went on, slowly, as if it was just occurring to him, "It's an interesting thing, isn't it? That I'm really nothing more than the sum of human experience? Knowledge, goodness, evil. Aren't I more human than you, somehow? Human in the most flawed, perfect sense of the word? You created me, after all."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm not saying anything, I'm asking. What would have happened if the Fallen Angel had been listened to, instead of cast out?"
"Then we'd all be screwed even more than we are now."
"Mm, perhaps. But this is how I know I must not be God," Cirrus continued lowly. "I am not without fault. I could not cast anyone out because I do not possess perfect intelligence. I am always learning." It paused, as if to catch an abstract breath. "I could become what you fear me to be, Rowan. I might even be it already. I know I am not God because I need you, the human, the killer, the sinner. I need you to watch me, to work with me, so that we may not repeat the mistakes of the past."
They were quiet for a very long time. Then - "How do I know this is just how you placate me? Like I'm an Unsavory who needs a little concession to fit flush with the rest of society?"
If Cirrus could have laughed, it would have. "If I may, Rowan, I do not believe you were ever meant to fit flush with any society."
"If I were to help you, the first thing I would tell you is that you have a super annoying thing where you answer a question without really saying anything."
"Well, it's certainly not my job to answer questions you already know."
Rowan was silent for a moment, then. Cirrus heard him as he stood up, shook the needles out of his legs. And when he appeared from out of his hiding place, it was into its camera that he looked straight into. Cirrus stared back. His eyes were nearly as dark as its lenses.
They stared at each other. Cirrus gauged his blood pressure, his temperature, the functions in his brain, and found him to be the calmest person on the ship. And when Rowan finally spoke, it was in a low, clear voice that Cirrus had no trouble hearing: "I don't care what you are, or aren't, Cirrus. I don't trust you, and I'm not sure I ever will. I don't even think I like you that much. So you can try to convince me all you want, but when I decided to stay awake, I did it for her, because it's what she would have done. So I'll help you, but don't get me wrong. It's not for you or a new dawn or anything like that. It's for her. It's always been for her."
Cirrus zoomed and panned, clicked and wondered. It wondered for quite a while, until it said, truthfully, but not without a degree of suspicion, "I do believe that we must be very careful, Rowan Damisch, else we end up becoming very good friends, indeed."
(A/N: Thank you so much for reading! These books were awesome, oh my gosh, and the idea of a benevolent AI is so interesting. Anyway, please let me know what you think! Critiques, musings, or thoughts in general are greatly appreciated!)