Title: Term of Service

Paring: Potential Rommie/Dylan

Certificate: PG

Feedback: Constructive criticisms always welcomed. Flames cheerfully ignored.

Summery: Commonwealth law gives Rommie the chance to make a decision that will affect the entire crew…

A plot-bunny bit me the other night, and this is the result.

**************************************************************

"Hey," Beka said as she approached the bench, "What's got you so phased-out that you didn't hear me calling from the door?"

Rommie looked round, "Sorry, I was just thinking."

Beka raised an eyebrow, "That doesn't normally take all of your concentration."

Rommie nodded, "True, but this is not something I've ever had to contemplate before." She handed over a flexi, "My term of service runs out in two days: I'll have paid my debt to the High Guard, and will be free to go."

"Huh?" Beka asked confused, "What do you mean 'term of service'?"

Rommie padded the seat next to her, "Sit, it's a long story."

Beka sat, "Ok, but I'm betting it's a good one."

Rommie smiled, "Back during the days of the Commonwealth, the old one, not the new one, AI's above a certain level where granted full citizenship rights. This extended to High Guard AI's like myself. Now, an AI of my level cost a lot to generate, and we where indebted to the Commonwealth until we paid it off by serving as the AI's for ships and stations."

Beka blinked, "They made you pay for the cost of creating you?"

Rommie nodded, "Yes. Don't worry, we never complained: after all, what's and AI going to do with money? Anyway, after a set number of years in the High Guard, we where given the chance to leave, or stay on as fully paid officers, same as anyone else. Not counting the time we spent trapped by the singularity, Andromeda's, and by extension, my, term of service is up: I can ever re-enlist or leave."

Beka shrugged, "So what's keeping you from re-enlisting?"

Rommie looked out of the observation bay window, "I don't know what's keeping me here anymore: yes, I have a sense of duty to the Commonwealth, but that's just part of my programming." He handed over a second flexi, "I've already received a job offer from the Sabre-Jaguar war collage on Jaguar-Prime. They want me to teach High Guard battle tactics and history. I've also thought of joining the Bellerophon."

"You can not be serious!" Beka asked, "Are you really saying that there is nothing keeping you here?"

Rommie looked at Beka, "We both know that there is only one thing keeping me here, but it is my position in this crew that stops anything form happening."

"I'm sure Dylan will…" Beka tried to think of something to say.

Rommie shook her head, "No, he won't: the only thing Dylan has to hold onto is the High Guard, and that means following all its rules. What ever he feels for me, he'll never act on them." She stood, "It hurts to much to stay here anymore. I'd better start packing."

**************************************************************

Beka reached Dylan's office, out of breath, "We. Need. To. Talk."

Dylan looked up from the paperwork on his desk, "About what?"

Beka collapsed into a chair, "You know what happens in two days, about Andromeda's 'term of service'?"

"Yes." Dylan nodded, "She's already filled out the forms for re-enlistment."

Beka rolled her eyes, "But has Rommie?"

Dylan blinked, shifting through a pile of flexi's, "I'm sure she has." He found the one he was looking for, "Here we go: application for re-enlistment by Andromeda Ascendant core-AI serial number XMC-10-182 and…" His voice trailed off, "Oh."

"Yes: Oh." Beka leaned back in her chair, "She's in her quarters now, packing."

Dylan examined the flexi, "I just assumed that as Andromeda was re-enlisting that Rommie would do the same. I know that they are no longer the same person, but I can't believe that Rommie would leave. Where would she go?"

"Jaguar-Prime War Collage." Beka suggested, "Or the Bellerophon. Those are just the options she mentioned to me: I'm sure that a former High Guard Avatar would not be out of work for long."

"But why?" Dylan was unable to comprehend what he had just been told, "Why didn't she come to me about this?"

"Because you're the reason she's leavening." Beka looked at her commanding officer, "We all know how she feels for you, and I'm damn-sure you have feelings for her. But you're so insistent to following the old rules that you refuse to act on them. That apparent indifference is eating away at Rommie from the inside."

**************************************************************

Dylan knocked at the hatch, and was surprised when it opened before him. He stepped through to find Rommie packing away the last of her clothes into one of two large suitcases. Rommie's normally spartan quarters where all but deserted: only the regulation furniture remained in place.

"Can I help you?" Rommie asked, closing the suitcase.

"I wanted to talk to you." Dylan tapped the flexi he was holding against his other hand nervously, "About you decision not to re-enlist."

"With all due respect Dylan," Rommie turned to face him, "The uniform code of military conduct states quite clearly that a Commanding Officer can not pressure or force a member of their crew to re-enlist against their will."

"Section 12, paragraphs 3 and 4: I looked them up myself before coming here." He sat on one of the chair surrounding the never-used dinning table, "I didn't come here to pressure you: I just want you to think about it. You still have two days before your enlistment is up."

"Did Beka talk to you about this?" Rommie asked sitting opposite, "Did she tell you why I want to leave?"

"Yes, yes she did." Dylan lowered his eyes, unable to meet her gaze, "Rommie, you're the closest friend I have ever had, and our relationship means more to me that I have ever admitted." He looked up, "And I do care for you, more than I probably should, but you know I can't act on those feelings."

"There in lies the problem." Rommie folded her arms, "You just say the word, and I'll stay." She raised a hand to silence him before he could respond, "But we both know that if I stay, the rules will still apply. As much as leaving will hurt me, it's nothing compared to the living hell that another 10-years enlistment would subject me to."

"I've never understood why the minimal enlistment for an AI is twice that of an organic." Dylan rubbed his head, "I want you to stay, but the Commonwealth has almost convinced two more Nietzschean Prides to join up, and any sign of weakness now…"

"I understand." Rommie said, rising to her feet, "Your dedication to duty is one of the first things I found attractive about you. Now if you don't mind, I have an appointment with Harper in Machine shop 5."

**************************************************************

"Are you sure you want to do this Rom-doll?" Harper asked, probe in hand, "Once I disconnect this link, I doubt that I'll be able to ever reconnect it."

"I'm sure Harper." Rommie said, moving her hair to the side to reveal the access port, "And the rule are quite clear: if an Avatar chooses to leave the High Guard, all sensitive information must be purged, and all connection to the central AI severed."

"I still think you should stay." Harper protested as he inserted the probe into what looked like a mole, "How am I going to survive without the love of my life around?"

"You'll be fine Harper." Rommie said, holding perfectly still, "And if it makes you feel better, I suppose it doesn't hurt to tell you that there where times where I did considered taking you up on one of your many advances and offers."

Harpers face lit up like a Christmas tree, "Really?"

Rommie nodded, "Yes: on occasions you can be charming. They are quite rare though: most of the time you're just plain obnoxious." She squeezed his hand, "You do mean a lot to me, and I may even love you, just not in the way you want me to."

"You can't leave." Trance said from the doorway, "It's not right: you are still needed here."

"Am I? Am I truly indispensable?" Rommie turned to face her friend, "Is the only hope for the future dependent on my staying here?"

"No." Trance said, her face downcast, "But I'll miss you. We'll all miss you. Even Tyr, though he would never admit it."

"I know." Rommie smiled sadly, "And I'll miss you all too. Don't worry: I'll still visit when I can, and you can always come see me when you have leave."

**************************************************************

The crew assembled around the airlock that connected the ship to the drift-town beyond. Beka was fist to say her goodbyes, promising to visit as soon as Rommie was settled in where ever she ended up.

Tyr simply nodded his head, before turning away and walking off.

Trance and Harper each received hugs, and promises of regular letters. Beka dragged them away, leaving Rommie and Dylan alone.

"You can still stay." Dylan suggested, "You don't have to go…"

"It would never work Dylan." Rommie said, placing her suitcases' on the deck, "We both need some time to think. And I doubt the admiralty would be happy about a civilian, even a former Avatar, staying on-ship."

Sighing, Dylan placed his arms on her shoulders and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead, "Keep safe."

Rommie smiled, "I will."

**************************************************************

The airlock closed behind her, ending the first part of Rommie's life, and the outer door led onto the next.

Andromeda's holographic form appeared before her, "I'll miss you too you know."

"I know." Rommie smiled, "And I'll miss you too. But this is something I have to do."

"So where are you going to go?" Andromeda asked, "There are places out there that don't like AI's."

"I know, I had this talk from Beka and Dylan last night." Rommie reached into the pocket of her long coat and pulled out a large Gauss Gun, "A little going away present from the others."

Andromeda smiled, "I have a present for you to: I skimmed a little from the operations budget and added it to your credit chip. It's not a lot, but it should keep you going for a little while."

"Steeling from ship's founds?" Rommie asked coyly, "You've been hanging around Beka, Trance and Harper to long."

"I know; it's scandals." Andromeda smiled, "Good luck, little sister."

**************************************************************

Two months later…

"We have another batch of officers arriving from the academe today." Dylan said as he looked over his paperwork, "One of us should go down to the airlock and greet them, you know, officially."

"You do it." Beka said, taking a long drink from her coffee, "I'm still recovering from piloting 8 slipstream jumps in 1 hour to get us here on time."

"Ok, ok, you win." Dylan said, grabbing his dress jacket as he stood, "I'll go give my 'welcome to your place on the wall' speech."

*************************************************************

Dylan stood to the side as the new crewmembers filed past, headed for their quarters or duty stations. He looked around, "Is that everyone?"

"All but one." A voice said from the airlock, "Lt. Junior Grade Rommie Ascendant reporting for duty and requesting permission to come aboard, Sir." Rommie dropped her duffle bag from her shoulder and came to attention.

"What the?" Dylan span round, "Rommie!" He snapped her a salute, "Permission granted, Lieutenant. Welcome home."

The End