What Do You Have to Fear?
What had started as a simple mission to the planet's surface to pick up some ore for the ultra-warp drive had taken an abrupt about turn when Aya had suddenly wobbled and pitched face forward upon touching down on the planet's surface. Razer grabbed the A.I. and immediately launched back into the air where, upon gaining adequate altitude, she stirred and scanned the planet's surface, announcing the concentrated deposits of diotronium had apparently masked the distinctive energy readings from the same yellow crystal they're previously encountered on the prison asteroid.
"It appears the crystal is quite prevalent in this sector," Aya observed placidly, looking down at the southern continent.
"Feels like it's on every planet we visit," Razer muttered as he sped back towards the Interceptor.
"I would like to analyze the crystal to determine if there is a way to circumvent these effects. They are very unpleasant." Aya was very matter-of fact, as though suffering abrupt power drains was nothing out of the ordinary. "When you return to the surface to collect to the diotronium will you also procure a sample of the crystal?"
Razer looked down at the glowing green figure in his arms."I don't know if that is a good idea. It hurts you…and Green Lanterns."
"Your concern is appreciated, but scientific inquiry requires risk sometimes." Aya nodded, as though confirming to herself this was the right course of action.
She was such an odd computer, curious, determined, and seemingly unconcerned about her own safety.
"Fine," Razer said grudgingly as he floated them into the docking bay of the Interceptor, "But I will need a container for it, perhaps something that can block the energy it's putting out."
"There is selection of containers composed of various allows in the cargo bay. Also, I am sufficiently recovered to walk. Thank you for the assistance."
Razer stutter stepped and realized he'd been carrying Aya through the ship without even realizing it."…yes, right." He set her down on her feet.
She looked up at him with that clear gaze, the one that was entirely unself-conscious. Razer wasn't entirely sure that it was just the face that Aya could scan him down to the molecular level that made her gaze so penetrating.
"I apologize for the inconvenience and hope to determine a method to counteract the effect of the yellow crystal. Then you will not need to carry me."
Razer shifted. For some reason he felt painfully aware his hands were hanging at his sides, useless, and he crossed his arms over his chest. "It is no burden."
"My components are made of a lightweight polymer and metallic allow along with hard light energy constructs. My weight and density are negligible given your upper body strength."
"That's not wha – nevermind," Razer huffed and headed to the cargo bay to pick up a couple of containers to take back to the surface for the ore and crystal.
Now the Red Lantern found himself standing between a finger sized piece of the crystal and Aya; the A.I. seemed determined to approach it, even though her green glow flickered and dimmed with each step.
"Aya, stop that. It's draining you," Razer snapped, putting a hand on her shoulder to keep her back.
She attempted to side step around him. "Exposure effect increases exponentially with proximity. I wish to learn if there is a safe minimum distance."
"Do it with a simulation or something then. That would be more efficient than hurting yourself." He would appeal to her logic, hopefully that would override the unexpected stubborn streak the A.I. had developed.
It seemed to work, as she stepped back until she once again glowed a steady and luminous green once more and began running her fingers over the work panel, head tilted slightly to the left as she studied the data running across the monitor and through her systems. Razer studied her, rather than the data stream, watching for any sign of a flicker of her light.
"According to the biometric scanner the crystal's radiation appears to have a physiological effect on the amygdale equivalent."
"And what does that mean?"
Her clear blue eye flicked to his face once then back down to the panel. "Such stimulus would result in corticotrophin-releasing hormones, stimulating increased production of adrenalin. I hypothesize many organic life forms subjected to prolonged exposure to the crystal would experience physiological responses similar to those produced by concern for one's safety."
"…" Razer took a moment to process her words. Aya was so very clinical it was sometimes easy to lose focus with her lengthy analyses. However she rarely said anything that wasn't of import, so Razer had learned to pay close attention to what she said…and translate. "It makes you afraid?"
She nodded. "Succinct and correct, Razer."
He supposed that was as close a compliment as she was capable of generating. "And this…fear, it renders the Green Lantern energy useless."
"Apparently. However, I am uncertain why it has no effect on your own energy output." Aya studied him frankly, her wide eyes seeming to catalogue his every aspect.
Razer lifted his fist to examine that hated red ring. "I imagine because rage can be fueled by fear. Willpower is much harder to maintain scared out of your wits."
Jordan and the Bolovaxian would never admit to being afraid of anything, and Razer knew that was their weakness. If you don't fear it's because you don't think you have anything to lose, or you're a cocky glurg like Jordan and don't think you ever will lose.
Razer knew that, even when everything you cherished was gone, there was always something worse coming. Hoping for better was beyond pointless, and that was why the Green Lantern's power failed around the yellow crystal. They denied their fear. Razer lived with his, every waking moment. The regret, the pain, the anger it created and fed on at the same time.
Aya's eyes flicked from the ring to Razer's frowning face. "You have the ability to control and channel your fear? But I have never seen you afraid, Razer."
He regarded her steadily. Would she know what fear looked like, felt like, how it filled up every corner of one's mind and crowded out all reason and rationality? She had directives and parameters and hypotheses, but she was also determined and creative, confounding and protective. Perhaps she had an emotional approximate somewhere in those mechanics and constructs. "Aya, we all experience fear."
"I am unsure such ability is contained within my programming."
There she went again, sounding more like a machine than a being. If he could be magnanimous enough to credit her with more than being automaton of the Guardians, why couldn't she? "You are capable of more than you think."
She regarded him steadily, assessing his words. "Thank you, Razer. I believe that, also, are capable of more than you think." She nodded, confirming her own statement and turned back to her work panel.
The Red Lantern blinked. He has no idea how she did that, turned a simple inquiry or statement into something so laden with meaning it felt like a physical weight on his chest. A noncommittal grunt was his only response.
Aya's fingers flitted over the work panel, running innumerable scans of the crystal from a safe distance. "I have no experiential comparison for fear, except that I do not wish to go into stasis involuntarily due to exposure to this radiation."
"That may be a form of fear," he acceded.
Aya paused in her calculations, fingers hovering millimeters above the work surface. "It is an intensely…unpleasant experience, the loss of conscious control of my responses. Are all emotions equally powerful?"
Razer frowned, the tone of her voice an unsettling approximation of confusion. This conversation was veering into territories Razer did not feel comfortable exploring. "Not all of them, but some are equally unpleasant."
Why on earth did he say that? His mouth had apparently started refusing his brain's directives when it came to responding to Aya's questions.
"I would like to gather additional data so I can avoid stimulus that results in such an unpleasant emotion," Aya said, determination in the inflection of her words and the firm line of her mouth as she spoke.
She believed she experienced emotions? What kind of creation had those mad Guardians wrought, Razer wondered.
"What circumstances cause you to feel unpleasant emotions, Razer?" She posed that loaded question as matter-of-factly as she did the ridiculous one about Space Book poking, all queries of seemingly equal importance to her.
Razer frowned and took a step back, arm crossed over his chest defensively. "That is a rather personal question, Aya."
"It was my assumption friends shared personal experiences. You are my first friend. Is my assumption faulty?"
Razer had no idea what to make of that. He thought Aya had simply been parroting whatever socialization directives her programming provided. She was a machine and the concept of actual friendship was as beyond her capabilities as his own, although his reasons were quite different.
However, her expression was so earnest and direct, Razer couldn't help responding, albeit brusquely, "No…your assumption is not faulty, Aya."
It was irritating; this feeling like he'd been forced into a corner, as though telling Aya it wasn't possible to be "friends" with a computer was some sort of cruelty. He was a Red Lantern; cruelty was in his stock in trade. He needed to remember that.
"I have acquired fewer personal experiences compared to you, but I am prepared to share this information in exchange for yours."
Razer snorted. She made it sound as though he was a machine too, one she could plug her queries into and receive data, and it was tiresome.
"That's all well and good Aya, but I've known you nearly your entire life," Razer reminded her tersely, stepping back and away from her probing look.
"Correct. Will you agree to this data exchange?"
"Why should I?" Razer's arm came down in a short sharp motion, cutting the space between them, his temper flaring. Why did she never stop asking question, prodding him for information, dragging from him things he never intended to discuss with anyone, much less a creation of the Guardians!
Aya blinked and opened her mouth to respond, but he cut her off.
"I was captured by the Green Lanterns shortly after you initially came online. I was there the first time you assembled….this! From a memory stolen from my mind!" He waved at her physical form, the one that's familiarity prodded a painful spot in his memory nearly every time he look at Aya. "It was just data to you!" his voice spiked in volume and Aya merely blinked at him, as frustratingly serene and undisturbed as always. It was infuriating! All her questions put him off balance, her simulated gestures of kindness and interest, her approximation of dry humor, all the things that had started to dull edge of his rage now served to sharpen it.
"I've been present for nearly every monumental event of your artificial life!" His ring pulsed as his frustration grew. "And I am just a source of data to you!"
Aya stood quite still under Razer's verbal barrage, seemingly unfazed. "…it was not my intention to upset you, Razer," she said calmly, her soft voice modulated to a placating tone. "I only wished to exch – share information with my friend."
The bubble of rage in Razer's chest deflated almost as quickly as it had expanded, and left behind a feeling that he was extremely foolish for shouting at a computer. As if that had ever worked.
He grumbled under his breath, "How lovely for you." Sarcasm, a Red Lantern's favorite shield and weapon, in one.
Usually his barbs fell short and seemed never to pierce Aya's serene veneer. "It was not lovely. I do not enjoy upsetting you. I will refrain from doing so in the future."
Something about her words, maybe it was the unvarnished honesty in them, or the slight unexpected downturn of the side of Aya's mouth, made Razer suddenly felt like the bully he'd always claimed Atrocitus to be.
"I…I shouldn't have yelled at you, Aya."
Aya turned crisply away from Razer and closed the files on her terminal. "I have gathered enough data on the yellow crystal. I will analyze the results via direct interface with the Interceptor's mainframe. Please return the sample to the planet's surface; I do not want it on board. " With that Aya's smooth green features vanished and her parts dropped into a neat pile as she abruptly uploaded herself to the ships' processors.
Razer blinked. He'd never seen her do that, suddenly abandon her physical form and retreat into the digital recesses of the Interceptor's systems. If she'd been a humanoid, or him, Razer would have sworn she had just…gone to her room to sulk? No, he was just projecting. That was a ridiculous notion.
No response, except most of the luminous green lights in the science station suddenly went dark.
Why did that feel like she just slammed her door?