0.2 – Upgrades

The pod docked in the pirate spaceship.  It was run down and borderline derelict in comparison to the ship she left.  Her opinion of the hull could be summarized as a miracle.  A miracle it didn’t fall apart.

“Watch yer step,”  said the medical pirate as he stepped through the airlock.

Jackie followed after Copper and got her first look at the interior.  She was astounded at the sight.

In most space ships, there are two types of hallway.  Maintenance and Crew.  Crew hallways are supposedly clean, spacious and distinctly lacking piping, wires and electrical wiring.  Maintenance hallways are narrow, cramped and contain all the important systems of a spaceship, from air filters, water and electricity to coolant and runoff.

This hallway was a mix between them.  Pipes changed as extensions attached themselves and sneaked into the main hallway like a snake.  A large segment of wall was missing, revealing a control pad for an electrical circuit.

Metal sheets where drilled into the floor to cover a missing segment of the hallway floor.  A ladder was in the middle of the hall.

“How could you do this?”  asked Jackie, offended deeply at the sight.  A good crew is a clean ship, but this was a scrapyard in space.  Everything was in complete and utter disarray.

“Easy,”  joked the Captain.  “We took some HP-7 valves here,”  he pointed at the mess of piping on the ceiling  “And used them to reroute the HP-6 steam exhaust piping for heating the lower storage quarters.”

Jackie blinked a couple of times in shock.  Rerouteing HP-6 pipes was dangerous, especially since the steam would be at incredible pressures throughout the whole loop.  Not only that, HP-7 valves would blow under half the pressure.

“That’s impossible,”  she muttered in response.  “Not without downgrading the engine so the exhaust gases don’t blow the piping.”

“Nuh-uh,”  tutted the Captain.  “We spread out the pressure with omni-connectors and reinforced the valves with magno-locks. No need to downgrade the exhaust.”

Jackie looked directly at the captain now.  “Where does the excess go?”

He tapped his nose twice.  “Secret,”  he smiled warmly.

Jackie huffed and followed him as he lead the way.

The captain broke the brief calmness.  “Name’s Esteban Rex, by the way. Call me Captain Rex, however.  Not Rexie, only my wife gets that privilege.”

“Captain Rex,”  Jackie echoed quietly.  “Okay.  Umm, Captain Rex?”

“Yes?” Captain Rex asked, stepping around a pipe.

“Where are we going?”

The Captain turned around and smiled.  “To meet your new crew, of course!”

Jackie flashed a half-stare of confusion across her face before returning to the mildly curious and bemused expression that had been her default look since she was kidnapped.  The fact that the Captain of the pirate crew who kidnapped her was treating her like a guest of honour was a major part of her confusion and the fact that she was somewhat okay with him was the reminder.

“You said I was an android,”  Jackie mentioned.  Rex stopped.

“I did.”

“How?”

The question conveyed everything Jackie wanted to know.  How did he know she was an Android? How was it that obvious to everyone but her?  How did she not know?

Captain Rex put his hand in a pocket and pulled out a small device.  Jackie took a step back.

“Relax, I’m not going to harm you,” he said.  “Just listen.”

He pressed the device and it played an audio file.

“Capn’,”  said the voice from the device,  “Ah foon’ this wee thing.”

The recorder caught a gasp or two, footsteps.  A Sob.

Jackie heard the voice of a small girl speaking in monotone, with a metallic echo behind her.  “Don’t hurt me.”

“That’s…”  she paused.  She should be upset but she wasn’t.  Even her parents confirmed it.  The real Jackie died years ago.  She was just a replacement, something to hold off the grieving.

“Dammit.”

“Your voice modulator’s busted,”  Captain Rex explained.  “We’ll get you a new one and you can start working for us after that.”

Jackie wasn’t listening, she was too busy trying to be sad, trying to cry.  She was dead.

“I’m really dead,”  she muttered.  “Oh god.”

Her thoughts were distracted as Captain Rex gently brushed her cheek with his hook.

“It’s okay,”  he said.  “I can help.”

Jackie nodded softly and followed him to the crew.

 

***

 

The crew was all gathered at the ship’s console room, which was purposed with the same haphazard ‘repairs’ that accompanied everywhere else on the ship.  How this crew didn’t poison themselves I don’t know.

“Meet the Redjaws,”  said Captain Rex, his hook gently resting on Jackie’s back.  He was pointing to each of the five other people.  “That’s Copper, you know him.  His real name is Cooper, don’t ask for his first.”

Copper turned in his chair and smiled, showing a missing tooth that was replaced by silver.  His clothes were brown and rugged, like his hair.  He swivelled back so that he was sitting at the console again, pressing a few buttons.

Captain Rex pointed at the pirate with the medical laser and battery pack.  He grinned and waved at Jackie and Captain Rex in response.

“My first mate Joe Daniels.  He’s a tricky one, but his heart’s in the right place.”

“Hey Capn’, hey Jackie,”  he replied with a lot more genuine enthusiasm than last time she met him.

Rex pointed to the woman who was bandaged from head to toe underneath her clothes, with stray strips of cloth hanging out.  She looked foreign and towered over most of the crew, even from her seated position on a bench in the corner of the room which she took up.   “Susanna.  Don’t expect any girl talk from her, she came from a Warrior tribe in Valmorra.”

Susanna grunted and flung a stray strip of cloth over her shoulder.

The man beside Susanna was short, and Susanna punctuated the fact.  Jackie was taller than him. “Stanly Still.  Cook.”

Stanly smiled a toothy grin and took off his hat in a bow. He had a mechanical hand, apparently.  Not at all like Captain Rex’s hook.

“And finallyy,”  Captain Rex said with emphasis on the last syllable,  “We have Louise Castella.”

Louise was unlike the other pirates, wearing a dress that said ‘entertainer’ rather than ‘pirate’.

She walked up to Jackie and took her hands.  Both of them.

“Nice to meet you,”  she smiled weakly with courteous grace.  “I’m sure you will fit in with the rest of us.”

Jackie was stuck trying to find words again.  Or syllables.

All she did was crack out an “Ah,” before opening and closing her mouth again over and over.

Captain Rex moved out the way, telling his crew to move out back to their stations.  Everyone but Copper, Louise and Jackie left the room.  Louise was still holding Jackie’s hands long after that moment.

“Mesmerized, Jackie?”

Jackie shook her head quickly and took a step back, breaking eye contact.

“No… I mean yes… I mean… what was that?”

Louise smiled and put her fingers to her lips slowly.

“A secret, my dear.”

And with that, she gracefully and slowly walked off, her body practically dripping off confidence and appeal with every step.

Jackie stood there dumbfounded for a moment.  She didn’t seem like Captain Rex, Susanna, Copper, Stanly or even Joe.

She shook her head.  Copper was busy at the controls of the ship.  She figured she should talk to him first.

“Hey,”  Jackie said.  “What are you doing?”

“Plotting a course to Arma Dex spaceport, Jackie,”  replied Copper, not looking away.  The screen lit up red then green, and he swivelled around in his chair.

“Arma Dex?”

“Yeah,”  Copper smiled.  “It’s a nice big spaceport that usually brings in the stuff we need, like a new voice box for you.”

Jackie nodded.  “Arma Dex.”

0.1 – Man or Machine?

“It is currently 7.00 AM Jackie Munro, Time to wake up,”  the alarm blared.  Jackie was already awake.  She always woke up at 7.00 AM, just in time to hear the automated reminder.

She threw off the covers and quickly got up, sighing. Sixteen years and I still have the body of a child, she thought to herself as she looked at the full body mirror in her bedroom.  It was true. While everyone else on the starship had grown, she remained a small teenager with the frame of a child. Even growth pills did nothing, although her parents insisted that she shouldn’t be taking them, and punished her when she did sneak some.

Her golden hair, her small features and her plain skin was unchanged since she was eleven.  She resented it heavily, thankful that nobody mocked her for it.

She changed out of her nightgown into actual clothes.  Shoes, socks, T-shirt, underwear and shorts.  The green/blue combo of her shirt and shorts was childish, but she didn’t like pink or dresses.  Jackie never felt she was old enough to wear womanly clothing, even at sixteen.

“Mom, Dad?” asked Jackie as she yawned, walking into the main living quarters of the Munro’s.  No response.  Her parents weren’t there.

“AI, what time is it?”  Jackie spoke aloud, asking the ship’s AI aid.

“7.07 AM, Jackie,” replied the computer.

My parents should be here.

“AI, what time is it on Jupiter?”  she asked.

“Inconclusive, Jackie.”

That was troubling.  The Starship should have access to the galactic network.  They can’t be in a dead spot.

“AI, open up Network Manager,”  she requested, looking through the fridge.  Even if her parents were gone, she shouldn’t skip breakfast.

“Open.”

“View Access and Ports, please.”

“All Ports open, Access network error, Jackie,”  said the computer.  Jackie finished pouring a bowl of cereal and sat down.

Are we being jammed? thought Jackie as she took a spoonful of cornflakes.  Access shouldn’t be denied, and the error has no code since the AI didn’t say.  Jackie decided to resort to her special trick; admin access.  Somehow, she had this. Her father was the Systems Admin, but somehow she suspected he altered her account to give her free reign over every function of the AI.  She enjoyed spending her free time alone looking at all the ship’s updates and what is going on everywhere.  Her friends felt distant, and she turned to looking at the AI for companionship.  It worked, and the AI became a close friend, albeit predictable.

“AI, can I get a log of general events?”

“Sure, Jackie. At 5.06 AM a foreign object struck ship.  At 5.07 the Network access failed,”  the computer said, listing the important events about what happened to the ship while she was asleep.  Jackie sighed in relief.  It’s just a repair job.

“At 5.10 Alarm and Alert was disabled.  At 6.33 AM a hull breach occurred. At 6.54 AM twelve Foreign entities boarded the ship.”

Jackie almost took a spit take, but she swallowed the mouthful of cereal instead.  Pirates, slavers?  The ship was boarded in the early morning.  Maybe even Aliens.  Hedgors were known to attack human vessels in this area.

“AI, Crew count please,”  asked Jackie.

“65 Humans, 2 Androids, Jackie.”

They are still here, she thought.  Jackie thought that maybe that’s why her parents were gone.  The pirates took her.  She had to find help, or escape.

No. She had to first check up on everyone.

“AI, Can I get a hologram, please?”

“Sure, Jackie.  Any specifics?  You have seven favourites,”  replied the ship’s computer.  The Ship Computer was marvellous, using a command line style interface for vocal commands for each user.  Useful for a vocal only interface, unlike graphical interfaces used in most screens.

“The room with the most crew members, please,”  requested Jackie.

The hologram screen popped up on the table.  Well, not exactly on the table.  It was more like a centimetre above it, hovering just above the surface.

The screen contained a camera feed of the mess hall.  Everyone was huddled in a corner of the room, with three men who were clearly not a part of the crew.  A small one was busy on a laptop, plugged into the ship.  Another was wilding a gun much too large to realistically carry; a minigun of some form.  He lugged it over his shoulder, waving his other arm around.

Stereotypically for a pirate, it was a hook.  He wore a hook and a cape.  Jackie smirked a little at that.

Jackie’s Mom was there, her Dad too.  They were both silent.  Her father – Juliam – was facing the ground, a gun pointed at his head.

“Password,”  demanded the large caped pirate.

“Frostbite first,” replied Juliam.  “Camel case, Frostbite is one word.”

“I’m in,” said the pirate on the laptop.  “Let me check the admin functions an-”  There was a pause as he stopped typing.  “Someone’s logged into a second admin account.”

The big pirate looked at his crewmate.  “Where?”

“Crew room 14.”

Jackie panicked, rapidly blurting out orders.

“AI, Activate Away mode with account password: Dearest love,”  ordered Jackie.  The AI didn’t respond vocally, but beeped twice.  Good.  She’ll be hidden in the logs and map for now, so the Pirates will have to personally look for her to know she’s there.

She worried about her parents.

Knock knock knock knock.  The sound of the footsteps in the hallway outside grew louder as somebody approached.  A crewman?  One of the Invaders?

It didn’t matter.  Jackie had to do something.  She opened the door and took a look outside.  The white empty hallway was as it always was; clean, brightly lit.

Jackie ducked down the hallway, hiding behind doors as she slowly crept to the storage room and armoury.  The footsteps were only echos as the pirate approached, but Jackie had no clue where he was coming from.  Just as she reached halfway down the corridor, a pirate turned the corner and almost bumped into her.  He had unkempt black hair, hodge-podge clothing that was part armour and part modesty and the repurposed surgical laser in his right hand, wired up to a battery on his hip.  His armour was white ish, with an occasional brown stain.  Blood.  A doctor for a pirate crew.

Jackie turned and ran, the pirate chasing her.

“Stop, I’ll fucking shoot yae,”  he warned, raising his weapon.  Jackie didn’t listen, and barely avoided a shot as it burned a small pinprick of metal piping ahead of her, shooting steam everywhere.  She ducked for the corner around the steam and froze up as she saw exactly where she ran to.

Not the airlocks,  she thought to herself.  The pirate was catching up.  Not there, no.

The pirate caught her by the arm.  She didn’t react.  The airlocks terrified her.

“Whit yae stop fir, eh?”  asked the criminal in a mocking tone as he dragged her by the arm back down the hallway, presumably to the other prisoners.  “I wis having fun!  Coulda cut yer wee ankles with ma laser.  Cannae dae it now though.”

That’s not comforting in the least, Jackie thought.

She was taken to the mess hall.  Everyone was there against a wall, surrounded by a few pirates.

“…so I’ll be playing nice,”  finished the big pirate with the minigun.

“Capn’ ah foon’ this wee thing,”  the pirate with the laser said as he shoved Jackie at the hostages.  She stumbled a few steps and regained her footing, seeing her Mom and Dad in the crew, unharmed.  They were terrified as they saw Jackie enter.  They grew even more so as the captain’s hook caressed her chin and guided her to look at him in the eyes.

“Don’t hurt me,”  Jackie squeaked.

“Wow,”  he replied, moving his head to get a better look.  Inspecting.  His light brown beard was disarming.  His formal wear over his massive frame was, too.  His weapon wasn’t.  That thing was a minigun.  Jackie could imagine him firing up the gun and slaughtering the whole crew in seconds.

He didn’t.  The captain smiled warmly at her and turned back to the hostages, patting Jackie on the shoulder and pulling her in for a large one armed hug.

“I’ll be taking the android,”  he said to the crew.

What?

“What?”  Jackie asked, looking at the captain from her cramped view.

Her mother responded.  “Please don’t, you can take the research equip-”

“I’m taking the android.  They fetch for a good price at the tech markets, and you’d never make it into sol legally with one like this anyway,”  explained the captain, his tone harsher, his eyes fuelled with a stern stare.

Jackie broke free from his one armed hug with a struggle, annoyed at the captain.  Kidnapping is illegal, and he’s smiling about it, she thought.  Creepy.

“I’m human!”  Jackie said, pointing at herself.  “Look at me!”

The captain gave a curious glance and smiled.  After a brief silence, it broke into a laugh.  He stopped after several long seconds.

“You don’t know?”

Jackie gave a puzzed stare.  “What?”

“Turn around, Jackie.  Look at your family.”

Jackie slowly turned around with unease at the idea of following the order from the pirate captain, looking at the crew of the ship she lived on.  She immediately saw the guilty looks from her parents, and most of the crew.  Others looked away, including her father.  Jackie’s mother was in tears, crying her eyes out.

“W-what is this?”  asked Jackie in disbelief.  “Why are you-”

“Jackie,”   interrupted her mother.  “I’m sorry.  I-it was when you were ten.”

“I’m human,”  Jackie replied, realizing what she meant.

“You were p-playing hide and s-seek, and you hid in an airlock.”

“I’m human,”  Jackie replied in total denial.

“We didn’t know, and the airlock was set to automatic.”

“I’m human,”  replied Jackie, hoping that it would be true if she repeated herself over and over.

“It took a week to find you.  We-”

Jackie watched as her mother broke down in tears, unable to finish her confession.  She looked at everyone, their humiliation and guilt written across their faces.  Everyone knew she was an android.  Everyone but Jackie.

“You knew?”  she muttered to the crew.  “All of you?”

No response came as none was needed.  The cook, her best friend, Andlews…  They all knew.  And now she knew, too.

“I’m taking it.  An android like this will be more useful to me than you,”  finished the captain, grabbing Jackie’s arm with his left hand after slinging his gun over his shoulder.  “It’s all I’m taking, but let me say this one warning; don’t live in denial.”

Jackie looked up at the captain as he took her away from the crew of her old ship.  Jackie was too deep in shock to react as she was dragged away, and still silent as she sat in a pod next to the captain.

“Hey, Android.”

Jackie looked up at the captain without thought.  He was looking back at her with the warm smile he wore earlier.

“What’s your name?”  he asked.

Jackie didn’t respond, all she did was look at the ship she left.  The small hole in the side of the hull was dangerously large.

“You worried about the crew?”  Asked the third pirate.  The one on the computer.

“Name’s Copper, good to meet you.”

Jackie still didn’t react.

Copper sighed, moving his hands through his hair.  “Why’d you take it, anyway?”

The captain smiled.  “I see some idiots heading to Sol with a necrobot and I can’t help myself,”  he turned to Jackie.  “Trust me, I saved you and them.  See?”

A small ship few towards the research vessel in the distance.  Government Space Officers.

“They’d have nuked the ship.”

“Why?”  asked Jackie.

“Why?”  parroted the captain?  “Cause all sorts of monsters are coming here.  There are kill orders everywhere.  Something like you about?  Shoot first, ask later.  Chances are they’ll not fuck up more likely than they will.”

Jackie somehow didn’t believe it.

 


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