There are seventeen crew members aboard the Prometheus. It is one of the largest, most expensive scientific explorations of the deep reaches of space that has ever been launched. Every pound of equipment, gear, and rations has been scrutinized for maximum efficiency, in order to save fuel.
Motion in space may be unimpeded by friction, but Prometheus still needs its thrusters to maneuver around stellar and planetary gravitational wells. There are also the myriad systems—life support, communications, science labs, and so on—that must have fuel to function. Two and a half years of travel, even at minimal energy levels, still consumes hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel.
Therefore, all crew members—save for Meredith Vickers, of course—had a strict limit of one bag of personal items weighing only twenty kilos. This requirement caused much grumbling during embarkation, as some crew had to toss out belongings that exceeded weight capacity.
David was the one who oversaw this procedure, enforcing the weight rules even when crew members fussed. He saw their black looks and heard the mutters, but none of these affected him in the least. He needed neither their affection nor their respect. The rules were the rules, in place for very good reasons, and he would not jeopardize Mr. Weyland's last voyage just so their biologist could hold on to an original copy of Darwin's Origin of Species.
The muttering grew louder when they saw crate after crate loaded onto the ship for David's personal use. Again, he ignored them. He would be the one to stay awake during their long voyage into the heart of space. He would monitor their life signs and ensure that none of them fell into brain death during their long cryogenic sleep.
If there was anyone onboard who deserved extra weight allowances to keep himself busy, it was David.
Three months, sixteen days, twenty-two hours and fourteen minutes later
David segments his days into a strict schedule. Were he an ordinary human, he supposed by now he would have fallen into anarchy; rising, sleeping, eating, and studying whenever he felt like it. But he was not human. And even among androids, he was not ordinary.
After "waking" in the morning, he makes the rounds of the cryo-bay, checking each pod to make sure that respiration, cardiac, and neurological functions are normal for each of the sixteen human crew.
He himself does not sleep, of course, but he has gotten into the habit of disconnecting himself for two hours a night. At first, he switched off for a full eight hours, to give himself an idea of what "sleep" might feel like. Once he realized, however, that sleep without dreams was meaningless, he reduced the time spent "asleep". But it is a way to pass the time, and he needs that...insofar as he really needs anything.
After checking the crew, he always goes to Mr. Weyland, whose cryo-pod needs closer attention. It is not only a stasis machine; it is helping to prolong the man's life, and therefore requires constant calibration to administer different medications in varying levels to combat the cancer ravaging his system.
Some of David's original programming—back when he had just learned to speak in complete sentences—had been on the subject of cancer treatments. It is familiar territory for him, and caring for Mr. Weyland always makes him feel comfortable. So much of his time these days is devoted to absorbing new information that it is restful—or what he thinks "restful" is like—to do something familiar.
After these initial rounds, the next six hours of his day are spent in going over the records recorded by the Institute of Archaeological and Anthropological Studies. He sits with Dr. Ranjit and learns how to decipher and pronounce dead languages from Earth cultures of millennia past. Though it is his duty to study everything the Institute offers, he develops certain preferences and aversions.
He likes Hawaiian, for example; the syllables move in regular beats, just like the notes in the symphonies he enjoys hearing. He does not care for classical Chinese, as the tones remind him of wailing cats. Latin is also soothing. While doing his rounds in the morning, he sometimes intones lines from Latin prayers, or recites Cicero.
He particularly enjoys Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy of the stoics is very appealing.
This is what makes David different from other androids. He is one of the first to have a kind of self-actualization subroutine. It enables him to act without specific situational programming, thereby giving him a flexibility and utility unmatched among existing AI models. He can make plans and schedules and carry them out, with no one's authorization save his own. Of course, he has been programmed with certain duties (monitoring the crew, caring for Mr. Weyland) but outside of that, he is "free".
Even the engineers who first crafted this program did not fully understand how it would work. David does not understand it either. Freedom for an engineered being? An artificial construct? A human simulacrum?
Part of his brain is always working on these metaphysical problems. Everything that he does and thinks that is not a part of his existing programming, he tucks away in a file labeled "Meaning".
Eventually, he will understand why and what he is—at least, he believes he will understand—but for now, it is nothing more than an interesting puzzle to take up some time.
After language lessons, he checks all the cryo-pods again, and makes any necessary changes to Mr. Weyland's medication. He also goes to the bridge and makes sure that all ship functions are within normal parameters.
They always are.
Sometimes he opens the steel shields over the transparent aluminum-alloy windows, and looks at the stars. He does not do this often—it would waste too much fuel.
Then it is time for some "fun". As with the languages he studies, there are certain sports and musical instruments that he enjoys playing, as well as certain movies that he likes to watch. He likes basketball (he can spin the ball on his forefinger for 5 minutes and 27 seconds and make free throws from anywhere on the court) and table tennis.
Sports are easier to excel at than music. He can play the cello and violin well enough, but even he can hear the difference between a performance of his and one of say, Yo Yo Ma. He plays the notes with technical perfection, but can manage no emotional inflection. He does not feel what a human might feel upon playing the same notes. He listens to recordings and copies them, but he knows it is not the same.
This is the kind of discovery that he files in the folder called "Meaning".
He spends six hours a day in activities of this nature, always pushing himself to try more complicated maneuvers in his sports, or tackle more complex pieces of music. He does not know whether this drive towards perfection is part of his programming, or part of his personality—if he even has a personality—but he does know that it makes him feel a sense of accomplishment when he performs at a higher level than he was formerly able to do.
Then he makes another round through the cryo-bays.
He always ends his day with a film or two. At first, he went through his archive in alphabetical order, watching one after the other, unable to sort quality from garbage. The variety of human behaviors, expressions, and emotions portrayed in each movie was bewildering, and he needed time—more so than with languages or sports—to determine what kinds of films he found appealing.
In the end, it wasn't a particular genre he enjoyed. He found that he liked certain actors or actresses.
He had just finished watching Caligula—an altogether mediocre film—when he felt compelled to watch it again, just to see the performances of the actor playing Tiberius. Then he watched it a third time.
After that, he abandoned an alphabetical approach to movies and watched everything he could find with the actor Peter O'Toole. He did not "sleep" at all that night, and abandoned his usual routine the following day so that he could watch all thirteen in the archives.
He did not understand why watching Lawrence of Arabia was so fascinating—even after the tenth, or twentieth, or thirty-seventh viewing—but he knew that if he were ever to become a fully-actualized human, he wanted to have some of the ineffable qualities he saw in Peter O'Toole.
Eight months, twenty-four days, sixteen hours and thirty-eight minutes later
It has now been more than a year since Prometheus left Earth, and David has had enough time to understand some of the things that puzzled him earlier in the trip.
He knows what boredom is, for example. It is a shadow that clings to him every day, resting around his shoulders soon after he wakes in the morning, and only leaving once he has disconnected himself at night. He now sleeps for four hours a day—a concession made only after much personal castigation. He still regards it as a weakness, an acknowledgement that he needs to care for himself, if only a little.
It is an admission that he is not indestructible, and such an admission is troubling.
David is not afraid of pain. He has conducted experiments on his own body—cutting his biosynthetic flesh, or touching the hot surface of a plasma conduit—and knows that he is physically capable of feeling pain, but it does not frighten him. He is actually fascinated by it; the different physical sensations that various trauma present.
When he first started these experiments, he was actually in a little danger of overdoing it. Now he limits himself to one new sensation a week—it gives his mind another thing to puzzle over, in imagining new ways in which he might feel pain.
At least pain is exciting. Boredom, however, is crushing.
It is one particularly black morning that David gives in to a temptation that has dogged him since first arriving on Prometheus.
One of the neurological functions David monitors is the REM patterns of the crew. A natural sleep cycle runs through four levels of sleep, and REM is the most important. It is what keeps the brain active and functioning, and adequate REM sleep is vital during a cryogenic period.
During the early stages of deep space exploration, entire crews would die with no physical symptoms of distress. It was only years later that scientists came to understand that sleep (especially REM sleep) was the explanation. The human brain would wither without the stimulation of dreams.
The cryo-pods are all compatible with David's artificial cortex. When he engages the system, he can see into the crewmember's dreams.
Part of his ethical programming dealt with the concept of shame. He knows that invading another's privacy is a shameful thing to do. It is voyeuristic and strange and not something a person should do.
He knows this.
He does it anyway.
David knows enough to set rules, however. New stimulation is always hard for him to resist, so he limits himself. One crewmember a day (males only, and never Mr. Weyland), and only for fifteen minutes at a time.
It becomes the thing he anticipates most in his routine.
At first, what he sees is intensely disappointing. All his life, he has tried to become as human as possible, without really understanding what "human" is. He has read literature, listened to symphonies, studied architecture and art and philosophy…all the highest achievements of mankind. Though he often failed to understand these things from an aesthetic standpoint, he still admired them, admired the struggles that humans went through in order to create them.
In seeing their dreams, however, David sees humanity in its naked, unvarnished state. It is—to use a literary phrase he does not quite understand—a bitter disappointment.
He sees jealousy in a crewmember who envied another for getting a position he was not good enough to get. He sees anger in a crewmember who dreams of beating a man to death over a trivial matter. He sees lust…lust from nearly every single person onboard, as they dream of people they could never hope to win in reality.
These sights harden him. For a while, they disrupt his routine. He abandons his musical practice, his sports…everything except his language studies (his programming is too strong to allow him to stop).
Even Lawrence of Arabia has a sour edge to it now. As he watches, he cannot help but wonder what sort of dreams Peter O'Toole had, and the thought is unsettling.
Without his self-imposed goals and his familiar routine, David finds more and more of his time is taken up in confronting the massive amounts of data in his "Meaning" folder. The bits and pieces stored away after more than a year on his own is a tangled mess, and sorting through it for some kind of order takes time.
But now he finds himself confronted with the question: is it worth it? He has seen into the dreams of humanity. He knows the best and the worst that man is capable of. So he must ask himself…does he even want to be like them, anymore? Or should he become something better, something perfected?
After thinking of these questions, he considers nothing else for days. Finally, he comes to the conclusion that he needs more information.
He is programmed to admire and respect Mr. Weyland; Mr. Weyland, after all, created him and views him as a son. Could Mr. Weyland be the same as the other crewmembers on board…petty and rotting inside?
And women…David has only explored the dreams of the men. Of these, only Charles Holloway has admirable qualities to him. He has noble aspirations for this mission, and great dreams for the future—even if those dreams deal a little too much with fortune and personal glory for true nobility.
Considering all these things, David arrives at a conclusion: if he is to condemn humanity and renounce their ways, he will need to see the dreams of Mr. Weyland and the women on board.
So he breaks his rules.
He first looks into the dreams of his sister, Meredith Vickers. He is almost shocked to find a creature who is like him; cold, analytical, and detached. Some of her dreams, however, are wracked with violent emotions…emotions so strong he finds himself almost overwhelmed by them.
She hates their father, doubts and loathes herself, and is jealous of David. He does not understand the motivations behind these feelings, but she feels them with every fiber of her being.
The Scottish scientist—Kate Ford—offers little new information beyond what he has already learned from the dreams of the men. She has a son, however, and dreams of him often. Her maternal feelings—love, pride, worry—are new and stimulating. He dips into her dreams more often than the others, hoping to see the child's face each time.
After all this, however, he discovers the dreams of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. And things change.
Two months, nineteen days, four hours and thirty-five minutes later
Seeing into a dream is a disorienting thing. The viewer of the dream is aware of both himself and the dreamer in different proportions. But the dreamer is always the one in control; the viewer sees and feels only what the dreamer sees and feels. Sometimes, dreamers see the dream from their own eyes. At other times, they view the dream's action in the third person. Often, the dreamer takes on a different persona entirely.
The first dream David sees in Elizabeth Shaw's mind is a dream of her father's death, and he cannot escape from her mind.
He feels a physical weight in his chest and is disturbed. The weight is not painful—not entirely—it is as though his chest is being pressed between two boards, the pressure increasing with each passing second.
He looks through her eyes at a face that he knows and does not know. David has never seen this man before…but Elizabeth has seen this man every day for her entire life. This man has shaped her—her beliefs, her convictions, her higher nature and finer feelings—and he is her world.
And he is gone.
She cannot wake him, and does not try. But David's hands twitch; he longs to reach out and touch him, try to shake him awake, to make him speak and laugh and live again. This man is everything. Without him…is life even possible?
The dream ends as Elizabeth's mind drops into deeper sleep.
David rarely has physical responses to the shadows of emotion that he feels when witnessing dreams. Pain, for example, does not usually make him flinch. But his hands are shaking when he takes off the visor, and it takes three hours for the pressure in his chest to disappear. The sensation lingers for so long that he runs a diagnostic to make sure that none of his systems are malfunctioning.
There is nothing amiss.
Somewhere, he thinks, his programmers should rejoice. Their little wooden puppet is becoming a real boy.
The next dream is more cheerful. Young Elizabeth stands next to her father, her hands resting on a rough-hewn wooden pew in a small church in Kenya. Her thoughts are a melodic blend of Swahili and English, and there is chanting in the air.
Baba yetu, yetu uliye
Mbinguni yetu, yetu, amina!
Baba yetu, yetu, uliye
Jina lako litukuzwe
She and her father sing. The Lord's Prayer…they are worshipping. David has studied religion, but has never understood the comfort that humans profess finding in it. Inside Elizabeth's dreams, he understands.
She looks up at her father's face (and he feels the pressure again because the joy she feels is short-lived; he will die, they all die) and he feels her certainty that God is real and that He loves her just as her father does.
Over time, he learns many things from Elizabeth.
Three weeks, six days, two hours and eleven minutes later
David has regained a sense of normalcy. Elizabeth has given him hope that humanity has redeeming qualities after all, and he has resumed his normal routine. The only change he has made since dipping into the dreams of the crew is that he now spends a small amount of time each day—fifteen minutes to an hour, generally—looking into their minds.
His favorite is still Elizabeth. However, he also looks at Holloway, Vickers, Janek and Ford occasionally as well.
He has still not looked into Weyland's mind. Something makes him shy away. He would say it was fear, but David does not fear anything.
The days pass smoothly, now. David continues to improve himself as much as he can, and now he has a new motivation. Before, his only goal was self-improvement, imagining how he would like to be. Now—though he does not often consciously acknowledge it—he imagines what she will think of him, when she awakes. He does not want to seem…disappointing. It is an odd thought, since she only met him briefly during embarkation and probably formed as little an opinion of him as he formed of her during those first moments, but still…it is the truth.
He wants her to be impressed.
He even has a routine for dream watching: today is Holloway's day. When David puts on the visor and activates the interface, he wonders momentarily if something has gone wrong.
Then Holloway's dream-eyes open and David sees.
David does not need to breathe. He can simulate breathing—to put the humans at ease—but, like blinking, it is a purely cosmetic procedure.
However, as Holloway's fingers move inside Elizabeth and she draws a long, keening breath—head thrown back, pale throat exposed—David finds himself breathing in rhythm with her. His fingers curl as Holloway's do, and he feels the soft flesh contract around them as she moans and pulls him in for a kiss.
Suddenly, David is breathing hard and his face feels strangely warm and he disconnects the visor because something must be wrong with him this time. He keeps his hands flat on the cryo-pod as his heart pounds and the diagnostic runs, but again, there is nothing physically wrong with him.
But he feels…
Twelve months, two days, nine hours and eleven minutes later
The crew will come out of stasis tomorrow. David's artificial heart beats slightly faster at the thought. A year ago, he would have been confused at this strange reaction in his body, but now he understands himself better.
He is excited.
Still, routine is not something to be lightly dismissed. He studies his languages, plays basketball (he can make one-handed free throws while riding a bicycle, now) makes the rounds of all the cryo-pods, and celebrates by opening the bridge windows and staring at the moon that has been the goal of these many long months.
He finds a greater portion of his mind, however, is stuck on a looping thought:
I will meet her tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will meet her.
And many variations of the same.
Because it is his last day alone, he does all his favorite things. He watches Lawrence of Arabia. He sings Baba Yetu, pleased as the sound of his perfectly-pitched baritone echoes through the corridors of the ship. And he looks into Elizabeth's dreams, even though it is not her day.
Sorrow is a familiar companion to him when he enters her mind. Even though she may dream of her living father, her adult mind knows that he is no longer alive. Every dream she has is tinted with sadness. The fact that she is witnessing a funeral in this dream—encamped in the Namibian desert, this time—only makes the feeling stronger.
But she believes what her father tells her, about heaven. So the sight of the funeral does not distress her. She even lies awake that night, thinking about what heaven might be like, and if she might find it one day—up there, amongst the stars.
David does not believe in either God or heaven. Even after inhabiting her innermost mind for more than a year, her convictions have still not carried over to him. She believes because her father believed. Perhaps…
What does his father believe?
He has resisted temptation for so long. Today will be the last chance he has to really understand his father. David walks down the hall, steps slower than usual, for he is not entirely resolved.
Should he look, and risk the disappointment?
He stands outside the doorway, and considers.
Like many who have seen Prometheus, I was absolutely fascinated by the character of David. I didn't realize I wanted to write a story about him until I read the story David, by wond-rwait. Please leave a note if you enjoyed…I'm planning on making this a three to four part story.