Title: Crossing Stars
Author: Jade Hunter
Disclaimer: None of the characters and properties of Andromeda belong to me. Most of the technical mumbo jumbo and the nifty beginning quote is from the All Systems University.
A.N: I couldn't help myself, I swear. My muse took me hostage – a common event in my life – and threatened to cut off my supply of chocolate and coffee. Who could have resisted under such pressure? Certainly not me.
"You ask why we give our ships' computers normal emotions. Do you really want a warship incapable of loyalty? Or of love?"
--The Unshattered Allegiance, High Guard Frigate, Artificial Intelligence Rights Activist, CY 7309
The Andromeda Ascendant transited out of slipstream, hung motionless for an agonizing moment, and then the usually graceful starship limped forward.
The ship and its crew had been caught in a vicious fight with pirates – organized pirates who had expected them and ambushed them, causing major damage to the systems onboard before they were subdued. The mechanics had tried their best to patch up their ship, but it had taken all the skills they had to keep the ship together during slipstream.
A weary Captain Dylan Hunt and others of the crew on the Command Deck sighed in relief as GS92196 came floating into view on the mainscreen. A guard station was not their ideal idea of a break from ship life, but it was better than the alternative nothing.
Besides, as guard stations went, GS92196 was one of the crown jewels of the Commonwealth, not shabby at all.
"This is the Commonwealth Starship Andromeda Ascendant hailing guard station niner-two-one-niner-six. Please respond," Dylan said over the comm., waiting for proper permission to dock for ship service and repair.
"Andromeda Ascendant, this is guard station niner-two-one-niner-six. You are cleared for landing on dock 52, level 15," came the prompt response.
"Thank you," Dylan sighed, more out of relief than real gratitude. Then, he turned to the crew, smiling, "You heard the man, let's take her in."
"Yes, sir!" There were grins all around, and the crew on the Command Deck bustled with more energy than they'd had in days.
It took no time at all for the starship to land in dock 52, and the crew of 4000+ emptied the vessel in record time, minus a few of the technicians and officers. Dylan remained behind as well, planning on retreating to his quarters.
Holo-Rommie appeared in a flash of light next to her Captain, a small smile on her face. "I think I should feel insulted."
Dylan chuckled, "You can't blame them. This will be the first rest we've had in a long time."
"I suppose so," Holo-Rommie began, then disappeared in another flash of light as her avatar counterpart turned a corner and took up the trail of conversation.
"But they could have a bit more consideration for my feelings," Rommie finished.
Dylan shrugged. "You know what Gaheris would say to that."
"Lieutenant Rhade would know better than to say such things to me," Rommie said, then smiled. "Especially as I now have a physical form to which he is vulnerable."
To that, Dylan had no choice but to concede. Nietzscheans were many times stronger and hardier than many species, including their genetically unaltered human cousins, but even a Nietzschean was no match for a ship's avatar.
"With your permission, Captain, I would like to explore GS92196," Rommie said abruptly, halting.
Surprised, Dylan asked, "Why? You've been here before."
"Actually, sir, it is technically my first time on this guard station. On any guard station," Rommie reminded, gazing at her Captain steadily. "It is my desire to explore the station."
"Of course," Dylan nodded, blinking. "Any crewmember is entitled to explore the station while we are in repairs."
Rommie smiled. "Thank you." Her smile then turned impish, "I'll leave you to make your private call to your wife, now, Captain."
He grinned sheepishly, "Can't get anything past you, can I?" Sarah was pregnant with their first child, and was near delivery date. It had been much to his dismay that she had found out about her pregnancy a month into his return to service after the honeymoon, and he now called her whenever possible to check on her and the baby.
Wordlessly, Rommie shook her head, saluted, then headed for the docking bay, which was the only way out of the ship without the use of escape pods.
Once outside, she marveled at her surroundings. She had full access to the Commonwealth files on the schematics on Commonwealth guard stations, of course, but it was not the same as seeing with her own eyes, hearing with her own ears. Seeing from a human's point of view.
Mechanics and technicians bustled around, climbing onto giant ships, hanging from cables, even as drones buzzed here and there, making standard repairs that the organics did not waste their time on. There was an air of efficiency that appealed to the artificial side of Rommie, the analytical computer part of her, but there was also a feeling of pleasure and excitement that touched the part of her that could feel.
Once at a far enough distance, Rommie turned around to get a good look at her ship self, to see how she looked from an organic's limited viewpoint.
A feeling of disappointment curled in her stomach as she gazed at her mighty ship self.
The Andromeda Ascendant was one of the mighty Glorious Heritage class Heavy Cruisers, one of precious few truly bright stars in the Commonwealth fleet. It was the most visible symbol of the reach and the power of the Commonwealth, and the command of a Heavy Cruiser was limited to the best and the brightest of the officers.
Rommie knew all this, objectively. She knew that she was a great ship, and that all of her crew felt honored to be a part of her, awed to see and interact with her every day.
And yet, she could not feel that honor now, that awe.
She didn't know if it was something wrong with her wiring, or her programming, but as she looked at herself, she saw nothing but…herself. A warship, yes, a great one, of course, but nothing better than any other High Guard warship.
No matter how much she wanted, yearned, to feel like a normal human…no matter how much she looked like one…
Rommie was a ship's avatar.
It was all she would ever be.
I don't understand, she furrowed her brows, frustrated. What makes me better than…than that Siege Perilous class Atmospheric Attack Carrier? It can't be my weapons – the Attack Carrier has far more destructive power than I do…at least, not counting the Nova Bombs. Is it the missions that separate and classify us?
She gazed intently at the Siege Perilous class Carrier, comparing its schematics and standard equipment with her own, pondering all the while.
"What do you find so fascinating about that simple ship?"
Rommie turned her head – and met the most amazing pair of blue eyes in creation. They were warm and friendly, the skin around them crinkled as the owner of the face smiled gently down at her.
"Gabriel," he said, holding out a hand.
She took it, somewhat surprised at the lack of a pulse, and realized that he was an android. "Rommie," she smiled, then turned her eyes back on the Carrier. "Most people wouldn't call a Siege Perilous class warship 'simple.'"
"The Balance of Judgment is no better than any other warship," Gabriel replied gently. Everything about him was gentle, from the unassuming way he stood, even to the way he looked at things. "If I were to admire a warship, any warship, I would choose that one."
Rommie followed his gaze, and flushed as she realized he was speaking about the Andromeda.
"Why?" she asked curiously, after a moment. "What makes that one so admirable, when the Balance of Judgment is not?"
Gabriel smiled again, somewhat sadly this time, as he said, "The Balance is, as you've said, a Siege Perilous class. It is a destroyer, and is equipped for such. That ship is a Glorious Heritage class, capable of anything, from going to battles, to exploring new space, to making peaceful contact. No one would believe peace from a Siege Perilous class."
She smiled, pleased at what he thought of her, then gazed at him thoughtfully for a long while.
He seemed to grow uncomfortable with the searching gaze, for he smiled disparagingly and said lightly, "Sorry. I enjoy explaining things. Had circumstances been different, I should have been a teaching droid."
"But circumstances are not different," Rommie said shrewdly. "And you must settle for being the avatar of a Siege Perilous class warship."
Gabriel smiled, "What gave me away?"
"You made things very clear," Rommie replied. "I don't think you were trying to hide it."
"And?" It was his turn to be shrewd.
She smiled back at him, "And your thoughts on the Balance of Judgment mirrors my own on the Andromeda Ascendant."
"The Andromeda Ascendant," Gabriel repeated, smiling again, eyes flickering to the aforementioned ship. "Rommie. Of course."
"Unfortunately, I cannot say the same," Rommie said lightly. "I don't see at all how Gabriel can be derived from the Balance of Judgment."
"It isn't," he admitted. "But it has a link to it. The Captain who had me built and named me was from Earth – he never explained it to me in full detail, but it was from an old Earth religion."
"I see," Rommie mused. "More original than Rommie, but my crew has called my hologram thus since before I was built."
"When did that happen, by the way?" Gabriel asked. "The last I had heard of the Andromeda, she was not in possession of an avatar."
Ruefully, Rommie admitted, "A few months ago. It was after a particularly vicious encounter with a Magog swarm that Captain Hunt had me built. He realized belatedly that I might have been able to aid the repelling of the Magog had I possessed an avatar, and immediately put in a request for one."
"The Magog," her companion frowned for the first time since she had seen him. "They are growing in numbers and in their ability to disturb the Commonwealth."
She nodded in agreement; "Perhaps things would have been better had we signed the Treaty of Antares, but…"
"Had we signed, fifteen Nietzschean worlds would have seceded from the Commonwealth," Gabriel agreed. "It was better that we did not sign." The solemn look left his face as he smiled again, "Now, then. Let us move on to a more pleasant topic."
"Such as?" Rommie raised an eyebrow.
He continued to smile, "Whatever event possessed your Captain to have you made, I am very glad he did. You are very beautiful, and, I think, very kind."
She lowered her gaze to the floor, unsure of what to say, unable to help the pleased smile that curved her lips.
"Come, please, walk with me," Gabriel implored.
He held out his hand to her again, and she took it once more.