A Certain Human Game
It had been nearly a cycle since she had last run a Level Nine Diagnostic on her prowler's navigation system, and midway through the fifth sequence of the second pre-initialization sub-routine, she remembered why. Her head hurt. Too many tiny screens of data, tiny little windows popping up on the terminal and demanding manual authorization. Her back ached from crouching too long at a console. Her head pounded from staring at a screen for three arns straight. Briefly, she thought of shutting down the diagnostic. After all, protocol (not that protocol still mattered, but even so) dictated that such a diagnostic only needed to be run every TWO cycles, and only at a Level Five at that. But then, when one was making work for oneself anyway, she supposed, one may as well be thorough…
Her comm beeped suddenly, and she nearly banged her head on the ceiling of the prowler.
"Pilot? What's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong, Officer Sun," came the smooth, familiar reply. "But I require your assistance. One of the drds was adjusting a connection in my console, and it has became stuck."
She welcomed the excuse to leave her thankless, useless task. Stretching the cramps out of her limbs, she straightened with renewed purpose. "I'm on my way, Pilot. Please tell the…the drd…not to panic."
"So noted. We await your arrival, Officer Sun."
He sounds almost amused, thought Aeryn, as she made her way to Pilot. When she finally reached him and saw the comical tableau, she could see why. The drd had indeed become stuck. Its back end was submerged in a tangle of wire, and its antennae protruded from the console, flailing wildly as it struggled to free itself. It took only seconds to disentangle him and set him right again, but the break had been a welcome one. Aeryn did not feel like returning to her prowler just yet.
She watched the drd toddle away and rested comfortably against the side of the console, stretching her tight, cramped legs while Pilot watched her.
"Better?" she asked him.
"I might ask the same of you."
She winced, massaging a kink out of her right thigh. "Just a little stiff from sitting so long. The diagnostic…"
"Ah, yes. A Level Nine, was it?"
Pilot slowly shook his massive head. "I can only imagine. The one time I observed such a procedure, it was a Level Four, and it had enough redundancies and fail-safes built in to occupy two techs for nearly a weeken."
"They have automated it some in the more recent models. It wouldn't take quite that long."
"Even so…did you think the others would be gone that long?"
"Zaahn wasn't sure. But that planet was such a rich source of potential provisions that she needed all of them to help her harvest them. She even took Rygel!"
Pilot nodded, but said nothing, letting her set the pace for him.
"And it's not that I regret they couldn't take me. I've lived my whole life on ships, you know. Planets don't terribly interest me."
"And I saw the environmental readouts. Zaahn was right, it wouldn't be safe for me. Much too warm for Sebacean tolerances."
"Yes," said Pilot. "I thought as much."
"They needed all hands."
"And it's not like I particularly needed any of them to stay here. The diagnostic…they are not familiar with Sebacean systems anyway. They would have slowed me down."
"Indeed," said Pilot. He was running out of non-committal things to say. "Perhaps, yes."
"Yes, Officer Sun?"
"How did the drd get stuck in your console?"
"Well, it was as I explained to you. He was adjusting a loose connection and…"
"Right," she snorted.
"No, really! I had some loose connections in my console."
She shifted positions, arching her back a little, trying to work out a kink in her shoulder. "You can't fool me," she told him, grunting a little as her muscles strained. "I know a make-work project when I see one. You were bored, weren't you?"
"You were bored. Moya is in stationary orbit, the others are all off the ship, and I was holed up in my prowler. You were bored, Pilot."
"I most certainly was not! I had things to do. Vital things."
"Such as planting a drd in your console so you would have some pretense to call me up here?"
Pilot regarded her oddly for a moment, then sighed. "What is the phrase Crichton uses? Busted?"
"I would have come if you had asked, Pilot. There was no need to harm a drd."
"I most certainly did not harm him! He volunteered."
"He did? Why?"
"Because Moya was concerned about you, Officer Sun. Before he left for the planet with the others, Crichton spoke to me. He told me that you hated being alone."
She gritted her teeth, unsure if she was merely embarrassed, or angry too. "He should not have done that."
"He cares about you, Officer Sun. We all do. And Moya…I…we blame ourselves, for not finding a planet that was suitable for you as well. We regret that you were not able to join the others for their excursion."
She sighed, at last willing to admit that she was not entirely happy about being left behind. "There will be other excursions," she said. "Pilot, this is not something you have to assign blame for. Not to Moya, not to yourself, and not to them. It was too hot."
"I could not have gone with them. I had to stay here. To stay…alone."
"No. You are not alone, Officer Sun. I am here. Moya is here."
She nodded slowly, but her frown did not lighten and her posture did not ease.
"We can have an excursion here," Pilot suggested after a moment.
The drd she had freed earlier zipped back in, a small basket clutched in its pincers.
"Crichton taught me this," Pilot said. "It is called a picnic. You lay the blanket on the floor, like so…"
He bobbed his head excitedly as she laid the blanket down. "Then you sit atop it and you eat the food cubes and drink a flavoured beverage."
He watched carefully while she took a tiny nibble out of a food cube and sipped from a small cup of tea.
"And then," Pilot continued, his voice alight with animation. "Small creatures called insects try to steal your provisions and carry them away."
At this, the drd hovered closer, waving its pincers in a threatening manner.
Aeryn put down the drink, and gave him an impatient look. "And what do we do after we have eaten the food cubes?"
"We play a certain Human game," said Pilot.
"He has taught you this game?"
She weighed the options. Solitary confinement on a prowler full of enough tiny screens of text to distract her from going mad from the quiet, or this. One of Crichton's unpredictable schemes, complete with a 'game' from his ridiculous planet. With Pilot.
"All right," she sighed, the thought of Pilot's sensible influence finally swaying her to see through this diversion. "I'll stay. Now tell me, how do we begin this game?"
"Well, first, I say 'I spy spy with my little eye, something that is…black!' And then you say…"
"You say 'is it bigger than a breadbox?'"
She sighed again. Crichton was so going to get it when he came back.