The Vessel: Chapter 2

"Anywhere specific?" Travis asked quickly as the course was being laid.

"Solar four," Marle replied simply, "You have a chart for that, right?"

"Course, I do, Solar four is Mars... yeah, I know where that is," Travis replied.

"Ok, I just wasn't sure if you did," Marle nodded, "I mean, the universe is a vast place and..."

"Marle, look at me," he cut her off with this projected avatar flailing his arms up and down his body frantically,"I look human for a reason."

"I'm sorry," Marle nodded, "I just wasn't sure."

"Well, now you know," Travis simply said as his avatar gave her a wink.

She could hear the hum of the engine and the shift in direction and velocity as the ship laid its course and went for what she figured was the ship's fastest consistent speed* and she made her way out of 'her' room and went down two levels down the ladder.

Having been a ship engineer before ending up on the Phoenix Belle ship, she wanted to see the engine room (no duh).

Down there she saw the small tunnel where the plasma ran through. This was common ship design, especially for smaller vessels, where it saved space to have a hallway go through the plasma stream. It danced in all its pretty colours, and she couldn't help but smile a little at the vessel, as it sailed through the stars. Down the corridor was branching off into three rooms. She figured that one room had the dials for controlling and monitoring the plasma flow among the engines, one was an entranceway to service crawlways in the event such work was required, and a third room which stored the central computer... if you will Travis' room.

After gawking at the pretty colours that were flowing through the tunnel she walked into the room on the right. There she stared at monitors and dials. Yes, if she really needed to know what they read she could ask Travis and he would tell her, however, it's worth noting that she knew exactly what every dial read. From what she saw, the Plasma charge converter was at 75gj and the conversion voltage was 34tw, with stream fluctuation at 40hz... translation: everything is working properly and not going to blow up anytime soon... at least not yet it will.

After a quick nod she walked out and checked out the room in the left. As predicted it was the entrance to the service crawlway that lead to the various systems on the ship. While they were big enough for an average sized male terran to crawl in, she noticed that they seemed to be designed more for maintenance droids. Not completely unexpected, given that the ship computer pretty well does everything.

Course, she left, not needing at the time to crawl into the service way. She made her way to the mystery room in the center. There she saw some computer terminals with diagnosis readings. This was the computer core. Marle knew enough to know what the screens were: the thoughts of Travis in visual form. Mind you, you would have to sit with a printed read out to decipher it manually, but unless the computer went mad or was glitching out there was no reason to know the deep, dark, secrets and feelings of Travis.

There were wires in the ceiling, but Marle knew that some of the things Travis needed to access would be available through a wireless connection as a opposed to a wired one. Some of the terminals were likely traditional computers with dedicated functions that would be poked by Travis when needed. The center of the room was a box-like structure that had diagnostic information for the computer tech, with information that told her that Travis was online, error free, and not broken in anyway.

There was this odd disconnect that the strange fellow that runs the ship is a series of circuits inside a black box with glowing lights.

"So, how do I look?" the voice of Travis echoed from behind her.

Marle jumped a bit and found herself looking Travis as a projection on one of those screens on the floor behind her. "You must know that was going to explore the ship, didn't you?" she asked simply.

"Sure," Travis replied, "Still, it does feel a little odd for you to be looking at me... well, that box there... inside is what I am."

There was a pause. Something about what he said sounded really bizarre. Marle had spoken to A.I in the past, many with synthetic emotional algorithms to make them easier to speak to, but was he... embarrassed?

"You aren't bothered by me being in here, are you?" she asked nervously.

"Marle," the avatar bowed its head, "When you think of me... I don't want you to imagine me as a terminal, as a black box with lights... you understand?"

"Travis, I'm sorry," Marle replied simply, "I don't mean to..."

"I know," Travis quickly replied, "I'm not quite like any ship computer you will ever find."

"I have to say, you are very sophisticated," Marle replied.

"Thank you."

"I mean, you seem so very human."

Travis got quiet. There was a brief, uncomfortable pause, followed by Travis uttering "right, course I am." and his image fading into the ether.

Marle stood there puzzled as she observed a couple of droids performing maintenance in the computer core. She left them to their work... pondering if and how she hurt a computer's feelings.

Course, the thought of emotions in computers isn't completely out there in left field, as an emotion is a pre-programmed or conditioned response to stimuli among creatures, so programming a machine to react when things change isn't that weird. The weird part was the fact that Travis responded to stimuli that a computer wouldn't even take into account: it reacted to what might be called a "non-action." I mean, he reacted to being looked at! What purpose would that serve?

Nevertheless, the wander into the engine deck was done and she made her way up the ladder one deck and walked onto the bridge at the end of the hall.

It was the usual, like she was use to, with a seat the helmsmen sat in and a couple more for individuals manning gun stations or sensor arrays, though these seats hadn't been sat in for a while, what with the fact that the ship was fully automated and everything. Still, there was something comforting about sitting in the middle of everything, staring out through the ship's viewing glass as the stars whizzed by through the darkened void of outer space.

Marle sat there in the silence. The bridge reminded her of the freighter she was on before, it had a smaller bridge with no weapon station, just a helms station and a chair for Bile. The pirate captain had no sense of mercy or shame in his lies and his violence. She sat at the sensor station and eyed the instrument readings while the blaster shot that killed Bile ran through her mind, the shot and the scream of Chaffer, now product in the Fra'getta slave trade.

A tear ran past her face. Marle had never been a soldier or a mercenary, or anything like that. She was just an engineer, a simple scientist. She was never prepared for what happened to the crew she was with on a mere freighter.

"What's wrong?" Travis' voice made her jump a little, and turned to see his avatar projecting on the center of the bridge.

"Nothing," Marle replied, "I'm fine." She quickly brushed that tear from her face.

"Look, I'm sorry about earlier," he spoke, "I... I guess I don't like being thought of as a simple computer, and the control room setup reminds people that... that's all I've been reduced to."

"Travis," Marle quietly and softly spoke. There was a brief pause before Marle simply said "Thank you."

"Sorry," Travis seemed puzzled.

"Thank you... for saving me," she spoke softly.

"I understand," Travis replied and dematerialized.

*The fastest consistent speed is the fastest a ship can go indefinitely (or until it runs out of fuel) without causing stress to the haul, as opposed to the top speed, which is the fastest possible speed a ship can move. The latter usually causes stress to a ship's haul after a period of time maintaining it, and therefore is only used in emergencies.