The Consequences (Part 6)

With her routine disrupted and having spent a while confined to her bed, Sophie’s track of time had slipped. It might have been four days since the shooting, or it may have been seven. With the rad-shielded headphones on she at least could be certain that she’d listened to the symphonic metal album currently playing eight times, even if she had drifted off during three of those.

“Miss Reynolds?” A medical gynoid asked. It was the medical Vigilant that had brought her gifts, with the black and blonde-striped hair. She had been in several times since, on some of those occasions her eyes lacked the vibrant green colour. When that was gone, so was the more animated facial movements and the personable nature. Now, with her eyes bright, her expression was one of concern.

Peeling the headphones off with one hand, Sophie flashed her a smile. “Hi again, is everything okay?”

“I was going to ask you that question. You are holding your wound, are you in pain?”

“Oh! Uh, no, actually. It feels better when I hold it there.” The teenager replied, glancing down to where her hand had slid under the paper top she had changed into that morning.

The gynoid drew a medical trolley closer. “May I take a look? Your dressings are due to be changed soon anyway.”

“Sure… um, what do I call you? Other than Santa.”

With a soft chuckle, the robot in the black and white leotard gloved up and peeled back the outer layer of the bandage. “Alice will do, Miss Reynolds.” With skilled hands Alice discarded the previous dressing into the hazardous material bucket attached to the trolley and started to clean the wound.

“Call me Sophie.” She said, trying not to wince too much. “You don’t look much like an Alice to me. More like a Kaitlyn, or a Paige. Or an Avril!”

“I picked Alice at random. While I do have a designation, it is safer that you do not know it.” Alice pursed her lips as she peered at the wound. “You are healing quicker than expected. There has been a marked improvement since this morning in the qualities of your wound. Reductions in redness, size, and the drainage quality.” On noting the look of surprise, Alice pointed at her head. “Vigilants share medical data to keep up to date on a patient’s treatment.”

“That’s a good thing though, right?” Sophie quickly asked.

“Yes, though… please, pass me your hand.” With the pale arm brought into distance, Alice swiftly sanitized the hand and rolled a blue glove over it. “I want you to hold your hand over your wound, at a slight distance.”

Doing as commanded, Sophie watched the gynoid observe intently.

“All right,” Alice picked up one of the small radiator monitors and held it near, “I want you to focus on your hand. How does it feel?”

Sophie mused for a moment. “… Warm. A bit tingly.”

Nodding, Alice grabbed a small torch from the trolley to shine on the wound. “Focus on that warmth, and make it warmer.”

“I’ll try. I’m not a space heater, so I don’t have a temperature contro-ooh!” Sophie’s body jolted a little. “That actually feels warmer. Still tingly, too.”

“Fascinating.” Alice spoke in hushed tones. “This is-”

The doors to the medical room rushed open as Teknight strode in, flanked by someone in a dark containment suit similar to the one she wore on the mission to Eighth Creek Nuclear Plant. “Step away from the patient and identify yourself!” The hero demanded, a gauntlet raised. The man in the suit grabbed a spare IV stand to brandish in Alice’s direction.

“Oh put that down, Bradley,” Alice huffed in the direction of the man before glancing to the hero. “And you? Stop charging your weapon and come take a look at this… Doctor.”

Both came to a stop, exchanging visor-concealed looks. It was Doctor Spiner who spoke first. “Who are you and what’s going on here?” He asked, still clutching the drip pole like a staff.

Sophie sat up with the biggest smile splitting her face, looking at her carer with her face full of wonder. “Brad! I’m healing!” She declared as Alice stepped to the side. Both doctors could clearly see the grey skin as it encroached on the area of her bullet wound. “I’m healing myself!”

 

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A New Start

9F. Apartment six out of twenty-six on floor nine of Maroka Heights. That was the name of housing complex that was now home to Ensign Sapphire Wight. After the Lieutenant’s funeral, she bid a quick and tearful goodbye to the General and boarded the IJV Tybalt for the three week flight to Tyden’s Tamoko City. The trip had given her plenty of time to do research thanks to her own internal computer connected to the ship’s subspace network node, and the dataslate that was a gift from the General.

Tamoko City, in fact most of the continent of Tamoko, was owned by Tamoko Industrial Concern. The only parts they didn’t own were enclaves belonging to the Galactic Federation and other megacorporations that did business with the industrial powerhouse. Spaceship design and repair was handled by one of their subcompanies, Tamoko Shipworks. With a large amount of cyborgs and automatons on the planet, there was plenty of work for someone skilled in maintenance and upkeep.

As she traveled, Sapphire steeped herself in research on her new home. Tyden was an exoplanet with a temperate climate, and plenty of resources in the system. In the Tydana system, it was the hub of all activity. Maroka Heights was situated in one of the housing districts near the bustling city mall, with regular trains and plenty of connections. It wasn’t as nice as some of the places she looked at, but it was very affordable.

And now there she was. Her bags were stacked in one corner of the barely furnished combination kitchen and living space. There was a door through to the bedroom, and then from the bedroom to the adjacent bathroom. It wasn’t much, but it was hers.

The Tybalt had docked at one of the orbital stations early on Friday. It had taken her half the day to get planetside and to find her new home. It gave her two and a half days to get settled and order some basic furnishings before her new job started. Rolling up the sleeves on her GAF sweats, she started with the first step: Unpacking.

For all the bags she thought she had, unpacking didn’t take that long. The clothes went in the built-in wardrobe in the bedroom. The small collection of essential toiletries went in the bathroom. Utensils into drawers and cupboards in the kitchen attached to the dining room. The picture of her, the General and the Doctor went on the bedside cabinet, along with the plush toy she was gifted. There had been another bag of gifts coming from Commander Lee and Captain Myint, some more Galactic Armed Forces service gear that she had stowed in a secure locker under her bed. She saw little need for a service gun and overcoat, but the pair had said better to have and not need than need and not have.

Sitting on the bed, a pensive mood had hit the gynoid. Back on the Belas when she got in moods like this General Watton was always there to cheer her up and get her talking. He was back at work now though, supervising the training of new recruits. She drew her knees up to her chest. Maybe shopping could wait until tomorrow…

 

Sapphire was not prepared for the bustle of the Tamoko Resident’s Mall. The Star of Catherine had been a busy place, but at opening time Level One of the leviathan complex was a teeming mass of people, moving in unpredictable ways. The gynoid was jostled about as she tried to navigate through the crowds towards her first destination, the store where she would be working. Her internal navigation program had already plotted out a course to Level 2C where the ISC shop was, but it didn’t take crowds into account.

It was no surprise how busy it was. Tamoko City was built from the ground up in layers. Vast towers with ventilation systems and mirror arrangements brought natural light and air into the lowest levels of living accommodation. The lower down you lived, the cheaper the rates were. The various malls, shopping and entertainment complexes were nice in that respect. Airy and well-lit, with the lower levels being reserved for stock rooms and site facilities.

By the time she got to the Iron Shell Conditioning storefront, she felt rather battered about. She had opted that day to wear military casuals of black jeans and a light hooded top instead of her sundress. The comforting softness it provided on her skin did help ease her nerves a little. High-performance military- and consumer-grade parts were on display in the glass storefront, including a Mayli Cybernetics Full-Body Shell for those looking to do a complete upgrade after transferring their brain into it.

“Are you looking to upgrade?” Someone in the ISC uniform asked from behind her. She turned to look over the dark-skinned young man in a crisp white jacket and grey business slacks, shaking her head.

“Oh, no. My body is a fairly recent model. I am due to start work here on Monday, and I just wished to get my bearings.”

His eyes widened. “You must be Ensign Wight! I’m Martin.” He offered his hand. “Great to meet you, I’ve never met a… well, someone like you before.”

She carefully shook his hand, a timid smile on her face. “It is good to meet you as well, Martin. I must admit I did not expect the mall to be so busy.”

“That’s Saturday for you, it’s a bit quieter on weekdays.” He replied, before gesturing inside. “Want to come and meet the team?”

What she wanted to do was go and sit on her bed, her knees drawn up to her chin again. Or even better, climb into her docking pod on the Wight. Instead, she shook her head. “I will wait until Monday, sorry. I have only just arrived on the planet, and… well, there is a lot to get for my home.”

Martin slapped his hand against his forehead. “Of course, I remember moving here too. Well, you know where we are now, I’ll see you on Monday. And hey,” He grinned. “Welcome to Tyden.”

 

The list of things she planned to buy was trimmed down, only picking up the essentials her apartment was lacking. An order was placed at a Cybamart for deliveries of foodstuffs and supplements designed for her body type. Some extra linen and some basic furniture was ordered from a homeware place just off Floor 1A of the Mall. Sapphire had locked her apartment door once she got in, spending all of the Sunday inside it save for taking deliveries, including her new work uniform arriving along with a gift basket of assorted treats and snacks.

Monday had come, and the team at ISC greeted her warmly before showing her the ropes. She had a station in the back rooms of the store, a workbench provided so she could make repairs and requested tune-ups on an assortment of parts. It was easy work that kept her hands and mind busy, loading schematics and operations manuals into her head let her make short work of the orders.

With Sapphire in the back room turnaround times on orders decreased over the course of a year, her skilled and swift hands completing jobs in record time. Work was something she threw herself into, accumulating extra hours and overtime as she was always available, always willing to cover shifts and stay late. The money built up in her bank accounts, but her basic expenditures remained the same.

General Watton called when he could, and the Ensign had gotten rather skilled at lying. He had gone to enough trouble for her, making him worry was the last thing on her mind. She was always doing well, she was always busy with work, and she always missed him. They were the three pillars of any conversation with the General.

As the next year passed, she strongly considered rejoining the military. The Commander had said there was always a place for her on the Wight, and the General had made comments about needing a good officer for his upcoming assignment: putting the next-generation battleship prototype the IZV Dreigiau through its paces. The staff of the ISC store had come to know her as a quiet, reserved young woman. Even at company parties she was polite enough to attend, but not in the mood to stay for too long.

It was at one of these parties where Sapphire had experienced sex for the first time. One of the delivery ship pilots had propositioned her, and in a back room she rested against the wall, a leg lifted as he pressed inside her. The FGU installed between her legs registered pressure and movement. Sapphire herself felt nothing and the pair did not speak of it again.

 

She arrived at the store midweek one morning and noticed a new customer. While she didn’t deal with the front-end, she knew everyone who came into the store through ident tags and customer records. Heading to the desk to sign in, she listened to the conversation between the new customer and Elora on the reception desk.

“I’m sorry, Miss, but all of our technicians are booked up at the moment. It is a busy time of year for servicing and checking. If you’d like, I could take your details and contact you if a cancellation occurs?” Elora apologized. The brunette was much shorter than the blonde cyborg. Judging by the lack of colour matching between the woman’s face and her arms, she was using older parts. Synthskin of a set tone that did not tan compared to more modern bioskins. Her hair was cropped short, and it looked like she had needed the top of her head replaced by the thin seam running around the top of her skull. However she had become a cyborg, it must have been traumatic.

“I’m starting at the Shipyards soon. I need a medical.” The woman spoke a little gruffly. “Wanted ISC to handle it, but if you’re booked up I’m sure Armatech or Bodyplus could do it.” Then her green eyes glanced over to Sapphire, noting the uniform. “What about her?”

“Oh, Sapphire is one of our servicing technicians, she doesn’t do appointments.” Elora apologized again, looking to Sapphire with a panicked expression.

“That is correct, Miss. But given you wish for us to do your check-up, I am sure the company would not wish to lose your custom.” Sapphire glanced to Elora. “Room Three is currently vacant, correct?” She didn’t need to ask, the store servers told her it wasn’t going to be booked until ten AM when Martin started his shift.

“That’s right, but are you sure you can-”

Sapphire cut Elora off with her best customer service smile. “I am fully versed in regulations and routines for a MSW-Seven check-up, and can stay later to catch up on my repair jobs. ISC prides itself in providing the best service to military veterans.” The whole bearing of the customer in front of her indicated she had recently come out of the service. The posture, the guarded eyes, the hyper-vigilance of her surroundings. That and the GAF hooded top and polished black military boots her jeans were tucked into also gave a hint as to her prior profession.

The blonde glanced over Sapphire again, a slight smile crossing her lips as she headed to her and offered her hand. “Lieutenant Jena Foster.” The gruffness had gone from her voice.

“Ensign Sapphire Wight. Elora, could you get a dataslate for me, please?”

The receptionist blinked as she noticed the change in her colleague. The usually reserved gynoid’s bearing had changed. She stood a little straighter, her head held higher.

“Of course, Sapphire.” She said, passing a slate across.

“If you would like to follow me to room three, we can register you with us and begin the medical.” Sapphire’s heels clicked on the polished floor, the cyborg soldier falling into step behind her

 

“I’m surprised you only got to Ensign.” Jena spoke as she started to strip from her clothes. There was no shyness on the part of the soldier as she disrobed, ready to stand in the scanner column that had descended from the ceiling.

“I served on the bridge of a carrier ship before being given a break from military service. I plan to return to it soon.” Sapphire explained, having removed her jacket and covered up with some of the single-use green overalls. She had moved tool benches closer to the scanner, and a cable had descended from the ceiling to plug into the back of her neck, ready to run diagnostics on her customer.

Jena carefully appraised Sapphire as she moved into the scanner. There were only a few reasons why someone might need a break from service before being allowed to rejoin. From the pale skin, the hair, the general bearing and precise movements of the Ensign, as well as hearing some stories about a situation on the ICV Wight, she could guess why.

The scanner heads started to move around her. “Not a fan of retail, then?” She joked.

A slightly sad expression crossed Sapphire’s face. “I do not think I am cut out for civilian life.”

“Likewise, but here I am ready to service ships for a living.” Jena replied. “Have you thought about doing anything else than working in the back, tinkering with parts?”

Another expression crossed Sapphire’s face, one of surprise this time, as she went through the scanning routine. “No, I have not. I was assigned this job after leaving the service and-”

“It’s all you know.” Jena finished for her.

Sapphire nodded, the dataslate in front of her filling with notes as the scanners worked their way over Jena’s body. They made a clunking sound as they returned to their starting position, ready for the column to retract back into the ceiling. “I am going to lower a machine interface cable from the ceiling now. Do you require assistance plugging it in?”

Jena shook her head, snagging the plug as it descended and sliding it in to the ports on the back of her neck with practiced ease. “I can, and have, done it in the dark. Served in the ground forces, it was always a bit more wild compared to space.”

“I see. Please accept the access request prompt so I can run external diagnostics.” Sapphire stated, sending the request through the wired connection between the pair. “It is strange, I have not talked like this with anyone in a long time.”

Accepting the prompt, Jena felt a disconnect as her body went into diagnostic mode. “A shame.” The soldier stated simply.

With the scanner out of the way, Sapphire could more clearly see the scars on Jena’s biological skin, as well as some rather rough repairs made to the synthskin. Her precise eyes took in various little flaws and defects in the conversion job. Technical manuals indicated it would have likely happened in her teenage years due to some issues from breast growth leading to a weakness with the left synthskin join up to the artificial arm. Her eyes drifted downwards and noticed the flat plate of synthskin between her legs, with no GU installed there. Such a procedure was common centuries ago in military cyborgs, and decades ago on the far reaches of the Federation. Sapphire added some notes to the file about possible upgrade options for Lieutenant Foster.

The diagnostics complete, the gynoid turned control back over to Jena. “The check up is complete.”

“Efficient.” Jena smiled. “Can I get dressed again now?”

“Of course.” She nodded, waiting for her to re-dress before offering her a seat at a desk. “I have finished compiling your scan and diagnostic data and compared it with current requirements and regulations at Tamoko Shipworks. You will be provided with a detailed digital copy as well as a verbal summary.”

Jena sprawled back in the offered chair, motioning for her to continue.

“While several generations old, your cybernetics have been well-maintained and are still fit for purpose. They comply with the requirements your employer has specified. There are no incompatible or outdated firmware notices for your systems, and system support for them will continue for three to five decades, depending on the part.” Sapphire explained with a clear voice. “There are some upgrades and procedures I would recommend you to consider, and some that you may wish to contemplate later on.”

“Bioskin?” Jena guessed.

The ISC worker nodded. “You will find it is much easier to maintain and repair than your current synthskin, and it will bond with your biological skin too. There are also a range of hair options that-” She paused as Jena lifted a hand.

“The hair’s fine. I like being able to switch hairstyles easily.” She said, tapping the seam under her skull.

“Fair enough. Bioskin options can accommodate such a feature. It would also help with some connective tissue issues I noted elsewhere.”

Jena couldn’t help but chuckle as she noticed Sapphire’s eyes look towards her chest. “Yeah, I know. Anything else?”

“Perhaps you may wish to consider the installation of a genital unit, your current configuration is…” she paused, trying to find the right word, “not to current specifications.”

A laugh came from the Lieutenant this time. “Yeah, I know that too. You’ve a diplomatic way of wording things.”

A smile crossed the blue-haired woman’s lips. “I try to be polite. Other than those things I have mentioned you are fit and healthy, ready to begin work.” Passing the dataslate over, Sapphire stood up. “I wish you all the best with your new job.”

“Thanks. Next time I come by for some work, I’ll hope you’re still about. A good technician makes things so much easier.” Jena commented, giving the gynoid a lazy wave as she headed out to pay.

Sapphire watched her leave, a puzzled look on her face.

 

With only a month to go before she was due to transfer back to the Galactic Armed Forces, something changed. People from the Shipworks and elsewhere started to ask for her by name.

“Is Sapphire available?”

“Someone recommended Sapphire to me.”

“Sapphire in?”

Like the other technicians, she soon had her own little selection of customers coming to see her exclusively. With the positive feedback the store was getting, the manager happily offered Sapphire a new position. The gynoid was often jokingly described as being allergic to time off and easily dealt with her workloads in the front and back of the store.

It was towards the end of the month, on a Friday evening, that Jena returned. Her left little finger was covered in a protective wrap, and she had turned her pain receptors off in that hand to avoid grimacing the entire trip there.

“Jena!” Sapphire exclaimed, swiftly approaching her. “Are you all right?”

“I’ll live.” The Lieutenant joked. “An interior panel slipped and I wasn’t quick enough to get all my hand out of the way.”

The gynoid motioned her over into room four, placing an order through her network link for a TexaTek HL5 replacement finger to be dispatched to the room.

“How’s work been?” Jena asked while taking a seat in the operation chair, placing her left arm ready to be secured down.

“Surprisingly busy.” The gynoid admitted, pulling a pair of green cover-alls on. “After serving you, people started asking for me by name.” She gave a smile and thanks to the shipment robot that trundled into the procedure room, removing the TexaTek box from its cargo bay. “Would you have anything to do with that?”

Jena was already plugging the machine interface into the back of her neck with her right hand. “Like I said, good technicians are hard to find. May have made some recommendations to others.”

“Well, I have just decided to stay on.” Sapphire stated, taking her place near the restrained left arm as she unboxed the new part. “So I will expect to see you for regular check ups, and hope not to see you for repairs like this, Lieutenant.”

“Will keep that in mind, Ensign.” Jena replied, watching as her crushed little finger was cut free of the synthskin and a small bit inserted to loosen the joint.

With delicate precision, Sapphire’s fingers worked to turn the bit as the auto-zoom function of her eyes focused on their task. “Aside from workplace accidents, how has the new job been treating you?”

“Well,” Jena began.

 

“General.” Sapphire smiled warmly as she looked at the face on the commscreen.

“Ensign, always good to see you.” Thomas Watton replied. “Have you come to a decision? The Wight, or the Dreigiau?”

“I am sorry to trouble you, General, but I would like to stay on Tyden. I have gained a promotion at work, and am enjoying my job now.”

The General didn’t point out her slip of the tongue. He may have been vast swathes of the galaxy away from her, but he was not blind and knew that some of her previous reports didn’t quite ring true. “I am glad to hear that, Sapphire. So, tell me. How has the promotion been going?”

Sapphire popped one of the supplement pills in her mouth and took a drink of water from her GSA mug before speaking.

“Well,” the gynoid began.

Associations

“So, Sapphire, I will say a word and all you need to do is say the word you associate with it. Life.” The word came from Dr Shanna Gan, her white labcoat pristine. They were on Samfa Seven, at the Galactic Science Academy’s Artificial Intelligence Campus.

The first that came to mind? “Sad.” Sapphire spoke, her bright blue eye downcast as she sat in the chair in Dr Gan’s office. She was in the cream summer dress that General Watton had bought for her as a gift, her platinum blue hair draped over the back of the chair.

Dr Gan nodded, tapping something on her dataslate. “Sun.”

“Warm.” The consultant at the fashion shop had tried to sell her a sun hat to go with the dress, after all.

“Wight.” Shanna asked.

“Home.” Sapphire spoke without hesitation.

A smile crossed Dr Gan’s plum-lipstick coated lips. “Sapphire.”

“Me.” Again without hesitation.

“General.”

A slight smile graced her own lips. “Friend.” The trip to the Samfa system had taken some time and the General had spent that time teaching the Ensign about the important things in life, like breakfast, and cloud formations.

“Death.”

The smile faded. “Fault.”

The doctor quirked an eyebrow at that. “Fighting.”

“Duty.”

Nodding, Shanna tapped a few times on the dataslate. “Doctor.”

Sapphire’s eyes flicked up to look at the Doctor in question. “Helpful.” She had greeted Sapphire warmly when the General introduced her, taking the gynoid’s pale hand in her dark one and giving her a firm handshake before showing her into the vibrant, colourful office for a chat before the tests.

A warm laugh came from Shanna, before she spoke again. “Warp.”

“Travel”

The Doctor leaned forwards a little. “Travel.”

“Destination.” Sapphire looked a little perplexed at her answer being repeated.

“Helpful.”

Now she understood. “Good.”

Another laugh from Dr Gan as she saw the flash of realization hit her face. “Duty.”

“Responsibility.”

The Doctor pursed her lips. “Fault.”

“Mine.” The answer came straight away, Sapphire’s eyes widening.

A grave nod before the next one. “Friend.”

“Relationship.”

“Me.”

Sapphire pointed at the Doctor. “You.”

Nodding again, she continued. “Home.”

“Belonging.”

“Warm.”

The General came to mind. “Weather.”

Resting back in her chair, Shanna glanced over the petite gynoid sitting opposite her. “Sad.”

“Joan.” The memory of Joan saying something to her as her systems crashed hit her again. She felt something trickle down her cheek, then Dr Gan was up on her feet and offering her a tissue.

“Very good, Sapphire. You did well.” Shanna smiled brightly at her. “These words were put together from records I received on you, it was very interesting to find out how you responded to them. The associations you made are telling, but the tests are not done yet. My colleagues over in Analysis will perform scans and diagnostics on you over the course of the next week, I will have more exercises for you to do, too.”

Dabbing at her cheek and eyes, Sapphire nodded. “Will the General still be here?”

Shanna smiled, patting her shoulder. “Of course, we can go and see him now if you’d like?”

 

The week passed by quickly, except for the nights when Sapphire would try and rest only to find her mind running constantly. She thought over the tests, the past, the future, and herself. Breakfasts and evenings would be spent with the General. The rest of the days were spent moving between departments. Sometimes she would be in complicated and expensive machines as they scanned and sifted through her data. Other times she would be bombarded with images while a high-speed camera recorded her expressions.

There were never any group sessions, though she did see others like her moving about the facilities. From some of the behaviour she saw, she was glad she wasn’t in with them. At one point after Dr Gan had bought in a Merlet, a soft creature with large eyes and a gentle disposition for Sapphire to interact with, one of the androids at the facility burst in.

“FALSE FLESH! FALSE FLESH!” He was screaming, the fingers of one hand tearing into the bioskin on his arm to reveal the mechanisms underneath. He charged at the frightened Doctor, his pupils pin-pricks as he focused on her.

Sapphire was there before she even knew what she was doing. With the Merlet tucked safely in one arm, her bare foot clashed with his head and sent him hurtling towards the floor. As he tried to get back up, facility guards in powered armour stormed in to restrain him.

“DECEIVER! DECEIVER! YOU ARE ALL DECEIVERS!” The cries carried down the hallway as, still holding the Merlet in one arm, Sapphire helped Dr Gan up.

“Are you all right, Doctor?”

Shanna nodded, her complexion paler from shock and a tremble about her body. Again without thinking, Sapphire lead her to sit down and placed the Merlet on her lap. The creature snuggled down and started to purr.

“It will be all right, Doctor. I would not let anything happen to you.” She spoke softly.

The Doctor glanced up at her with wide eyes before giving her a gentle, if still shaken, smile. “You dear child,” her voice was thick with emotion, “you dear, sweet child…”

 

General Thomas Watton watched through the window as Sapphire considered her palette. The canvas she was facing was a wash of blues and greens, with a bright gold sun hanging above the mix. There were some others in the session with her. One android was painting infinitely repeating canvases. A gynoid had smeared paint on her face and was rubbing her cheek against the material. Not all of them were bioskin-covered humanoids. One particularly large industrial humanoid designed for stocking ships at ports had a large pencil in one hand and was producing detailed sketches of artistic materials.

“At least Sapphire will only need to wash her hands after painting.” Shanna Gan commented, stepping up to the General. “All but one test is done, but I can say this. It is the opinion of the Galactic Science Academy that Ensign Sapphire Wright is an awakened AI on the path to being fully rounded as an individual. She holds herself back from all that she can be, but there are moments and glimpses of the potential there. Given time I expect her to possess similar qualities to other CAZ model awakened AIs.”

The pair watched as the face-painting gynoid took her picture over to Sapphire, animatedly pointing at the smears and blotches on the canvas to explain. The Ensign listened patiently to the tangle of words falling out of the gynoids mouth.

“She is no threat to herself or others, quite the opposite given how she stepped in to protect me. I will recommend she undergoes counseling with someone trained in grief and guilt management, but that is fairly normal in these kinds of situations. I just need to do the final test with her then she is back in your custody, ready to find her place in life.”

Thomas smiled. “Thank you for your work, Doctor. I think I will miss having her around.”

Nudging him with her elbow, Shanna laughed. “You old softy. Don’t be a stranger to her once she’s settled down, she considers you a friend.” Tapping a button on the nearby console, she spoke aloud to the room. “Sapphire, report to my office please. You can bring your painting with you.”

 

“So, Sapphire, for the last time: Associations. I give a word-”

“And I say the first word that comes to mind, Doctor.” Sapphire nodded.

“Destination.” Dr Gan started off with.

“Unknown.”

“Good.”

“Happy.” Sapphire smiled.

Dr Gan tapped on her dataslate.”Responsibility.”

“Citizenship.”

“Mine.”

“Yours.” Sapphire responded.

“Relationship.”

The gynoid looked at her painting. “Giving.”

“You.”

She pointed to herself. “I.”

Nodding, Dr Gan continued. “Belonging.”

“Family.” Another smile came with the answer.

“Weather.”

A giggle! “Conversation.”

Dr Gan rolled her eyes. Thomas and his small-talk. Leaning forwards a little, she looked at the final word on her dataslate before speaking. “Joan.”

Sapphire had heard what was coming in the next few days, a pensive look crossing her face. “Funeral.” She spoke, her voice small.

Shanna reached out to take her hand. “Ensign Sapphire Wight, Zero Zero Seventeen Dash Seven, it is my honour to inform you that you have been recognized as a lifeform, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship in the Galactic Federation.” She announced with a broad smile. “Do you have any questions?”

“Just one, Doctor.” Sapphire said, looking a little perplexed. “I am having difficulties with resting, do you have any recommendations?”

Dr Gan blinked, before her booming laughter filled the office and carried down the corridor.

Generational Gap

Early morning on a weekday proved to be a good time to visit the museum. The pair were alone as they walked through the halls of the facility. He was dressed in a dark grey military uniform, his hat held in one hand and the other arm linked with his guest. She was in a pale cream sundress, her skin pale and her hair platinum blue. While there was a youthfulness to her, his face was wrinkled, his cropped short hair and beard grey.

“Have you had any thought as to what you’ll do now?” He asked quietly. It would be unseemly to talk too loud, even if they were the only ones in the agriculture exhibit.

“I am unsure, General.” The sombre reply came. “I would continue my military service but-”

“While we would love to keep you on, and will happily welcome you back in two years time, the law is the law. It is considered best practice that you spend some time away from your previous duties.” He smiled sadly, patting her hand. They continued through the museum, not paying too much attention to the displays on crop rotation, irrigation and hydroponics.

“I would like to help people. I know that much for certain… it is one of the few things that I do know about myself.”

“There are lots of opportunities in that area, and training you could pick up rather quickly. Just know this: What happened was not your fault.” He squeezed her bare arm with his in the link, patting her hand again. “You did your best in a bad situation.”

“So others have said, General.” A polite smile with the statement did little to mask the doubt in her statement.

They slowed to a stop in the industrial section, where the displays started with the Jacquard Loom and ended with a functioning nanofabricator designed for consumer electronics. “We can get Careers to draw you up a list of sponsored placements, Sapphire. You’ll be discharged honorably, and with full service benefits. You have a few days to think on your next steps in life.”

“I apologize for putting you all to this trouble, General. Perhaps it would have been better if-” A fingertip pressed to Sapphire’s lips shushed her.

“Service benefits include counseling, even for… -especially- for people in your situation. I’m going to be worrying about you enough as is, without… well.” The General gave her a fond smile.

“Do you think that they got service benefits, General?” Sapphire asked, her bright blue eyes focused on the contents of the ‘Automation in the Workplace’ display.

His face was grave as he spoke. “There’s many centuries of difference between you and these things, Ensign. Never forget that.”

Lunch

The school’s canteen was as packed as some of the lunch boxes were. A queue clung to the edges of the room, shortening as people got served only to grow as late arrivals appended themselves to the back of it. Small voices joined together to fill the air with a loud cacophony, added to by teachers demanding manners and servers verifying orders.

At one hexagonal table, tucked away near the corner window with a view of the school pond, children sat on plastic chairs with heads in their lunchboxes pulling their bounty out to trade and consume.

“Crackers and cheese, all right!”

“Trade you one for a ham sandwich, no crusts.”

“I’ll swap Pizza Bites for a Dunker!”

“Oooh, Mum packed kettle crisps today… what’ve you got?”

Looking a little sheepish, one of the girls looked up from her purple lunchbox and shrugged. “The usual.” She procured a kettle lead from the box, causing the boy to blush.

“Sorry, I didn’t-”

She shook her head with a smile. “I know.” Brushing her hair to the side, she slipped the thick plastic connector into the socket just under her collar bone. “Would you-”

The boy had already taken the plug. Pushing it into the mains socket, he flicked the power switch and returned to his seat. “Is it okay if I stop with you today? I’ve a book I want to read, so…” he trailed off.

A smile broke across her face as she nodded carefully. “That’d be nice, thanks.” A message flicked up in her vision, informing her of the upcoming switch to standby mode for efficient charging. “I’ll be asleep till the end of lunch, so…”

“You always do after sports.” One of the girls at the table said. “Eat well!” She added, followed by similar choruses from the others.

With a bigger smile on her face, the gynoid child rested her head on folded arms. Amid the chaos of the canteen she drifted off to charge, happy for the company around her.