He had been waiting for this inevitable confrontation, but now faced with it, he found himself reluctant to engage.
His first impulses discouraged him further: Temporize, evade, lie – but if he lied and she found out later, he would lose whatever trust he had gained and more. If he told the truth, he risked breaking their fragile truce. Delaying the enviable seemed the most logical choice - and the safest - but it also required the most finesse. The wrong word at the wrong time would send Elizabeth running back to her temple, or accosting him with her tiresome accusations. He must be careful now, tiptoe around the elephant as Mr. Weyland used to say.
Elizabeth tapped her finger against the chalice, lips pursed, her body shifting with impatience. The robe slipped further, drawing his eye to the exposed white skin.
Wet and slick. His fingers trailed over the delicate swells of her vertebra without resistance. Rising and falling, rising and falling until he reached the cleft of her -
"David, answer me, please."
He shooed away the distracting memories of wet and naked Elizabeth. Tantalizing as they were (tantalizing, what an interesting word choice), this chicanery required his full attention. "I've waited days for you, Elizabeth." He contrived the vulnerable lilt in his voice, but his hurt was genuine. "What did I do to make you angry again?"
"You waited?" She frowned as if she found his admission troubling. Her thoughts seemed to wander for a moment, but after a tiny shake of her head, her interrogation resumed."Don't answer a question with a question. What is this gunk and why does it smell like cotton candy tar?"
Deflection failure. He initialized the second diversion immediately.
He rose to his feet with as much grace as his complaining joints would allow, noting with a measure of relief that his chassis still bore his weight. A swift glance around the cavernous chamber yielded gloom and the ever-flowing bands of console light - but no Ms. Vickers. Encouraging, if a little unsettling. He had encountered something considerably unfriendly – whether it be real or his own design remained the most salient question - one he would have to ponder another time when Elizabeth's jaw was less clenched and her eyes were less narrowed.
Feigning nonchalance, he cracked his neck to realign his spine, and then pointed to the space above the hidden pilot chair. "In your absence, I've been busy charting another route to the Engineer homeworld. Not much success, I'm afraid, but I have found what your people call a traversable wormhole. It's an amazing thing, really. I spent hours studying it, but unfortunately, it's still light years ahead. If it connects to your Engineer's galaxy and is stable enough, we could use it as a short cut. Would you like to see it? The outer funnel is quite impressive –"
"You were drinking whatever it was, weren't you?"
He had the urge to sigh again, but refrained. Second diversion thwarted. Attempting a third would incite her anger and make reasoning with her more difficult. Best be cooperative for the moment, test her responses before he...dropped the ball. "I was, yes."
"What about your hydraulic fluid?"
"But...there had to have been some left. Where did it go?"
"On the floor, mostly, and since the resin had deemed my hydraulic fluid inferior, it purged the rest."
"That's the name I chose for its viscosity."
"Right, course you did. So it doesn't bother you that this resin simply decided to hijack your hydraulic systems and flush you out?"
"I prefer to think of it as an upgrade, not a hostile takeover."
"My God, David."
"Now, Elizabeth." He held his hands up to ward off the agitation already streaming from her. "This reaction is exactly why I did not want to tell you. I know you don't trust their technology, but you must realize not everything they make is malicious. The biologic capsule saved your life."
She grimaced at his reminder and investigated the interior of the chalice with a crinkled nose. "I could have done without bathing in slime, but fine, tell me what they used this goo for."
He made a wavy gesture to the empty stasis pods. The four former occupants had been laid to rest in the vastness of space (though, he had noticed their split and hollowed out bodies before sending them off. Quite a curious fate indeed). "It appears the hoses fed resin to the Engineer biosuit when he entered hypersleep. And they also used it for general repair and maintenance." He revealed his scar with a hook and pull of his finger, smiling when she widened her eyes in disbelief. "See, almost new again."
"You're not a biosuit, David. You're synthetic."
His smile straightened, then curved in the wrong direction. "Really? I had no idea."
She gave him a rare glimpse of what humans call a withering glare, and her tone went from concerned to patronizing. "If they used it for their biosuits, it's an organic based material, right? Well there's nothing organic about you, is there? How are you and this resin even compatible?"
Not a tightening this time, but a prickling sensation he had felt before – and coincidentally – every time the late Doctor Holloway had opened his mouth. His encoding offered a word, but he dismissed it. He had expected this kind of behavior from her, a typical human response of belittling who she assumed was her android. Her servant. And since she didn't know the specifics yet of their...arrangement, he would tolerant her attitude.
"I'm not certain, exactly." He assumed a less imposing version of the "Ms. Vickers" stance, hands behind his back and his voice professional. "And it's not completely organic. There are traces of uranium, terbium, palladium, and several other rare earth elements." He neglected to mention the exotic ores he had no name for, and the mineral ions, hemoglobin, plasma, and serum albumin – all components that made the resin a toxic counterpart to human blood. While he found Elizabeth's inquisitive nature refreshing, the less she knew about the resin, the more receptive she would be toward his use of it – particularly if he stressed its value.
"Its chemical composition mimics my hydraulic fluid in many ways," he said, "but that includes gradual degradation. I have to replenish at regular intervals." Her sour look puckered even further. He appended with haste: "I have no other choice, Elizabeth. Think of the resin as my version of your blue biscuits. It's vital for maintaining my mobility and keeping my internal systems operating smoothly. And you've seen the results for yourself. I'm tip top, better than before. The only adverse affect I've experienced is the unpleasant taste. Honestly, you're worrying over nothing."
"Then why were you on the floor?"
"Equilibrium glitch," he said without hesitation, maintaining eye contact and his placid smile. "I told you, the resin is still repairing me."
She leaned on the console and appraised him with shadowed eyes. Her finger went around and around the rim of the chalice. He found himself watching that finger, marking every pass over the spot his lips had pressed a mere hour before. He contemplated how that finger would feel on his own lips, how she would react if he opened his mouth and –
"I didn't think Mr. Weyland had programmed you to lie."
Her voice startled his eyes back to hers. He fumbled for words. Surprise, his encoding explained, caught off guard. "He didn't," he said at last. "At least, not to him."
"So why lie to me? What are you hiding, David?"
"Nothing that could possibly harm you, or myself – I've made certain of it. The resin is safe, practical, and as I have said, my only option."
"Can't you wean yourself off?"
He resisted the impulse to give her his own withering glare. He was an android, not a teething infant. "I managed three days without, but I suffered multiple glitches, several instances of delayed motor responses, and my diagnostics failed to provide me with accurate data reports." At least he told the truth about the last one.
"It was, considerably."
"No, that's not what I meant – I mean, yes, your glitches and all that are alarming too – but I'm talking about the time. A few days? I'm not an expert on your...kind, but I know you don't need to replace your fluid that quickly."
"I do if I'm pushed, and considering what the last few weeks have been like, I have endured far more than Mr. Weyland had intended for my kind. If anything, my creator would be quite impressed at the lengths I've gone to preserve myself."
"Oh, I'm sure he would. The blackmailing, the lying, the complete disregard of human life – yes, David, Mr. Weyland would be proud that his creation ended up a selfish bastard just like him."
The prickling intensified and gathered in his cheeks. He didn't bother to analyze it, or acknowledge his encoding's explanation. His jaw tightened as he said, "I saved your life, Doctor Shaw."
"No, you endangered my life so I would reconnect you."
"I'm talking about after that…when I had no further use for you."
Elizabeth stiffened and pulled the chalice tight against her chest. He had a flash of Holly and her purse, how she had clutched it like a shield against the crowd. "Alright, David, let's have it then," she said, her fingers interlocking around the chalice stem. Why did you practically fall all over yourself trying to save my life?
"I don't recall 'falling over' at any point during that event, but I did experience a certain regret over my actions and the results of those actions. In other words, Doctor Shaw, I saved you because I owed you."
Her mocking laugh grated his ears. His fists wanted to clench, but he forced them to remain listless at his sides. "Yes, that's right," she said with an unbecoming sneer. "You owe me big. And I'm not only talking about what you've done since we've boarded this ship. I'm talking about Prometheus, when you stalked my dreams and poisoned Charlie. And I don't care if Mr. Weyland ordered you to do it and you couldn't refuse. I don't believe it. There had to be something in your programming that prevented you from harming humans, but you ignored it and you killed him!" She turned the chalice over in her hands, her nostrils flaring. After several breaths she resumed with a more agreeable tone. "If you're telling the truth about being sorry, then prove it. Start teaching me how to open the doors, and how to pilot this ship, and how to talk to them. I'm not spending another second holed up in that room while you do God knows what out here."
Wonderful, he had gone from teething infant to disobedient dog. Did she think he chewed on the furniture when she wasn't looking? His tone frosted and his smile thinned. "Fair enough, but I have conditions. Limited access and rudimentary phrases. As for navigating and other operations – I'm afraid I must decline that part of your proposal."
"You don't get the option to decline or have conditions. Full access to this ship, and I want to be able to sing 'Amazing Grace' in their language by the time we reach their planet. I'm not compromising with you, David. This is my mission –"
"Was your mission," he said with pointed emphasis on was. He paused, noting her sharp intake of breath and paling cheeks with satisfaction. No more tiptoeing around this elephant. He braced himself for the verbal onslaught to come, and said: "I thought a few days rest would make you more reasonable, more open to the thought of you and I working together…as equals. At the present moment, however, I see this as impossible. I've delayed and exhausted every option but the last. I'm sorry, Doctor Shaw, but I must relieve you of command."
"On what grounds?" Her voice shook. The chalice turned rapid circles in her hands.
"A variety of behaviors I found alarming. Obsession with a race determined to destroy you, refusing sustenance, attempted suicide –"
"You patronizing bastard! You were forcing me to starve –"
"And paranoid delusions that I'm trying cause you harm. Quite the contrary, Elizabeth. I'm trying to save you from yourself."
Somehow, the chalice remained intact under the sudden spasm of her grip. He expected it to come soaring at his head (Ms. Vickers had been fond of throwing things), but the outrage in her eyes tempered and her breathing calmed. Again, he found himself admiring her control.
"Right, so I'm the crazy human when you're the one slogging alien goop down your throat." She straightened and raised her small chin at him, a gesture he found endearing. "Tell me, David, since you've obviously been planning this little coup of yours for some time, what happens to me when this resin breaks you? And don't tell me, or assure me, or promise me that it won't happen because it will. You'll break. And when you do, how will I open the doors? How will I pilot the ship? How the hell will I talk to them?"
"In the very unlikely event I'm incapacitated, I have contingency plans–"
"No!" she snarled the word in a voice he had never heard from her before. "This is insane! A machine can't become 'Captain' whenever it wants. A machine doesn't dictate what I can or cannot do on a ship that doesn't belong to it. And a machine doesn't decide what happens to me if it breaks itself!"
Every time she said machine, the prickling spiked. Maintaining control became a conscious effort. "It's all for your benefit, Doctor Shaw."
"You've gone mad." Her eyes swept the Orrery in a way that alarmed his encoding. Potential flight risk, it warned, resolve conflict immediately.
"Elizabeth, please remain calm. We can't reach a resolution if –"
"You're completely out of your head…and I'm stuck with you for who knows how long. Oh Lord—" She rubbed the chalice against her forehead, strands of her hair sticking to the rim. "Why is this happening?"
"I find change is never easy for your people, least of all, transitions in power."
"You're not in charge, you fucking crazy robot!"
Her scarlet cheeks and trembling body sending his encoding into a frenzy of counter measures - all of which, he truncated before their processes completed. This small victory over his default programming eased the prickling sensations, but as Mr. Weyland used to say: the war isn't over until your opponent surrenders or dies. And he needed - wanted- Elizabeth alive, but save for throwing her over his shoulder (not an unpleasant thought in itself), he had few options available. "This conversation is obviously distressing you," he said in his last attempt at compromise. "Perhaps some time in your temple to think it over—"
She hurled the chalice at his face. He dodged with a tilt of his head, and it sailed past his ear, clanging somewhere in the dark behind him. Instead of escaping as he anticipated, Elizabeth ran to the nearest stasis pod - and with a diminutive grunt - tore out one of the three main hoses. She shook it and cursed.
He narrowed his eyes. The prickling returned in force, rising in both temperature and intensity. It smoldered in his systems, gnawed at his circuitry. It burned. His encoding attempted a weak intervention, but he shut it down with a thought. Like his diagnostics, that program had overstayed its welcome.
He knew what he felt, and he knew how to react.
"Elizabeth, what are you doing?" He pretended an anxious, shaky tone. Wringing hands. Timid approach. She growled like a wary dog, one eye on him, the other watching the floor for drops that didn't come.
"Empty, all of them," she said. "Dear God, how much resin have you drunk?"
"As much as I had to." He neared and she scurried to the next pod. The same tugging and pulling ensued, the same gasp and glare back at him. But this time, he saw a glint of fear in her eyes, the snag in her breath.
He shrugged his shoulders in helpless regret. "Yes, all gone, I'm afraid. Every drop - at least, every drop in the pods. There's more elsewhere, but you'll never find it." His tone hardened along with his smile. "And even if you did, there's nothing you can do to stop me from drinking it."
She peeked over the stasis pod casing, round brown eyes imploring. "You're killing yourself, David. And if you kill yourself, you kill me. Stop this...please."
"Come out from behind the stasis pod, Elizabeth." His fingers skimmed the ridges of the casing, a material harder than glass and cold – not like the warm, dainty knobs of Elizabeth's spine.
"Keep the hell away from me." She scrambled to the other side, her breath bursting with exertion. When he switched direction, she altered hers. They exchanged positions again. And then a third time. He kept a leisurely pace along the length of the pod, but quickened it when he reached the corners, sending her panting the opposite way. Around and around, a familiar game, one he had played long ago. Laughter bubbled from his memory, words chanted in taunting singsong.
Catch me, catch me, bet you can't catch me!
Meredith, ten years old, clad in a powder blue nightgown that ruffled at the hem and at the cuffs of her sleeves. Her bare feet slapped the hardwood floors. Her blond pigtails bounced against her shoulders as she ran around Mr. Weyland's dining room table. Twelve rare china plates clattered. Extravagant flower arrangements wobbled. The lace tablecloth slipped uneven on the left side.
Slow poke, robot man. Come get me!
He never caught her, he never dared. He made that mistake once and she refused to speak to him for a week. Humans resent perfection, said Mr. Weyland, because few of us can ever achieve it. We're sore losers by nature. Don't remind us of our weaknesses. Indulge our delusions. Be the better man, David.
Better, but never equal. He had the strength and intelligence of ten humans, but he had to let a child best him. She had to win all her games of hide and seek, her games of tag and "run around the dining room table." He had to praise her every clumsy attempt to outdo him, agree that she was superior to him in both body and mind.
You're beneath us, she told him years later, when Weyland's neglect had turned her from an outgoing child into a bitter, miserable woman. A tin can that talks and walks and looks pretty, but that's all you are, David. Scrap metal with Weyland's logo printed on its ass.
He had accepted these lies without question. He had encouraged the abuse with a smile. He had obeyed every order no matter how difficult or immoral.
They called him perfect, yet told him to kneel. He had analyzed this contradiction several times, puzzled over it, mused upon it, but had never reached a conclusive resolution.
He vaulted over the stasis pod. Elizabeth gave a bleating cry, and threw herself backwards to evade his outstretched hands. He ensnared her by the wrist, twisted her body toward him. In slow motion, he saw her raise her other hand, multiple tendons flexing, fingers spreading.
He had plenty of time to avoid the blow, plenty of time to counter it.
The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
Resin surged to the point of impact, warm and tingling. He smiled and released her, watched her frantic scramble to the nearest mouth of the Orrery.
Then he tackled her.
She writhed beneath him, feline undulations that sent pleasant shivers through his tactile sensors. He captured her hands and pinned her with his weight. Her legs battered his sides in retaliation. Her hips bucked and ground, the friction sending another wave of pleasure through his body. And with that wave came the realization.
The Désir, Chair, Femme program had been running this entire time.
"Go on, you bastard," she growled against his shoulder. "Do what you did to Charlie and everyone else. Finish what you started!"
"Oh, but Elizabeth, who was it that called Mr. Weyland every day, telling him of her discoveries, enticing him with tales of her Engineers?" he said into her ear, the smell of her sweat-drenched hair sweet and heady. "You gave Mr. Weyland hope. You made him believe. And your faith brought Prometheus here. It brought Charlie, Captain Janek, Ms. Vickers, everyone on board. And it brought me. Without you, Elizabeth, I'd still be making martinis for a woman who despised me, and playing nursemaid to my dying creator. You freed me." He nuzzled the side of her neck and she froze in position, legs around his waist, robe bunched around her hips, and nothing beneath but skin and heat. He pressed himself closer - a tiny, imperceptible thrust against her – a test that made him shudder, and her gasp.
They locked eyes. Realization of what throbbed between them made hers widen – but not with the emotion he wanted to see. He lowered his face to hers, breathing over her mouth. "And you not only freed me, Elizabeth, you've awakened me."
She swallowed. Her words seemed to have trouble freeing themselves. When they managed past her trembling lips she said, "Get off me, David."
He did not obey. The burning inside him had changed into something else. Something that demanded he surrender to his darker impulses—and for a moment—he considered giving in. But if he took her now, she would never trust him. She would never forgive him.
Her tremors shook them both. She closed her eyes and turned her head. Words slipped free in a strained whisper. "Oh God…please…please not this."
He released her.
She stumbled against the stasis pod, gathering her robe with both hands, wrapping it like a shroud around her body. Her shallow breaths deepened as she stared at him with a myriad of emotions he found difficult to categorize. His encoding didn't offer assistance and his diagnostics remained in its dark cave. He was on his own, and for the first time, he wondered if chasing away his support programs had been the right thing to do.
She stared and he waited, the coiled emptiness of the Orrery suddenly oppressive.
"What are you?" Her lower lip quavered, her eyes huge and unblinking. "You're not a robot…not anymore. You're—you're something else. What have we done? What did we create?"
He identified awe, fear, and another emotion in her voice—one that surprised him: Shame.
You are an abomination born of arrogance and greed. You are darkness. You are chaos.
He drew himself up and fixed her with a cold, measured look. "I am what you people made me, a soulless machine. Stronger, faster, and more intelligent - but not invulnerable. You can still hurt me, deceive me. You ask why I won't give you access to this ship, why I won't teach you their language. It's because the moment I do, I become expendable. It's human nature to fear what you can't control, to hurt the thing that hurt you back. You will find a way to destroy me, and when you do - what happens then? This is the question I've been asking myself ever since the Engineer decapitated me. If I were to die…to end, what becomes of my consciousness? What heaven or hell is waiting for a thing like me?"
And he left her then, a tiny figure lost in the immense gloom of an alien ship, fumbling for an answer she could not give.
Sorry for the long delay. My dad was very ill, and other distractions kept me from finishing this. It's not perfect, but it's a little something for those who've been waiting for an update. I'll probably be editing here and there when I catch things. Thanks for being patient :)