USD: One week later
Location: Nu Crateris, Starlight Revolution Convoy, Tears of Fire, en route Dedia IV
Alex glared at the skillet that was slightly smoking, before turning the heat on the electric stove from maximum to high. “Elisss, can’t you do it?”
“No. Your turn to cook. If it’s inedible, we’ll go hungry.”
Biting her lip, Alex moved the pan off the heat completely to let it cool a little. On her plate was a round black form of what was supposed to be a pancake.
Elis got up from the table and came to help her.
“You’ll know the pan is the right temperature when water sizzles on it. Give it about a minute, then flip it. It’s better to be undercooked than… Ertan, what did you do? It’s a charred crisp.”
Elis checked the temperature settings and rolled her eyes, turning it from high to medium. “Hotter does not mean better.”
“But it’s faster.”
“You burned it, so is it really faster?”
“I guess... not?” Alex frowned before nodding in agreement. “Yeah, you’re right.”
Alex used the sink to get a drop of water on her finger, then dropped it on the skillet. It still sizzled. Grumbling, she waited until the pan cooled, repeating the process every thirty seconds.
Finally, the drop sat there, so she returned it to the heat. After another thirty seconds, she got the sizzle back. Elis nodded approval.
Alex stirred the batter in the bowl with her plastic spoon a few times then poured it on the hot skillet, a bit of the batter escaped down the side of her bowl and she had to stick it on a small towel to keep it from getting everywhere.
Alex looked up at the clock on the wall. It was the one Elis had put up with two hands that spun around. Alex liked it more than the digital ones for cooking. It gave her something to watch other than numbers while waiting.
Elis interrupted before the time was up.
“Notice the bubbles? That’s how you know when it’s done.”
Picking up the spatula, Alex flipped the pancake that had formed. The bottom was light brown.
“Ohh, it’s going to be good!”
Elis smiled and continued to advise while turning to go get the sweet syrup and vegetable spread. “See, it’s easy. Just don’t get distracted. Now imagine if we had some real butter, it would be perfect.”
Alex put on her determined face as she focused on making pancake after pancake. She even experimented with trying to make more than one at a time, with mixed results.
It wasn’t as bad as the burnt one, thankfully. Even if the pancake was a clumpy mess, it was still edible. Especially since she planned to drown everything in the syrup.
Once Alex got into the rhythm, she didn’t let up and soon there were two heaping plates with a half dozen skillet sized pancakes each. She brought them over to the dining table and Elis eyed her share skeptically.
“Gosh, you want me to eat all this?”
“I’ll eat the leftovers!”
Elis chuckled. “I knew you’d say that.”
Alex quickly started layering the yellow stuff with an ample amount of syrup between each pancake. Then she sliced through a bunch of them before skewering them on her fork.
“These are so good!”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
Alex quickly devoured half of her plate before slowing down to talk more. She noticed Elis watching her with a laughing smile.
“You are something.”
Alex looked at her questioningly, but Elis didn’t elaborate.
She went back to devouring her food. It wasn’t long before they were done eating and Elis put what she didn’t eat in the fridge. Alex was already thinking about snacking on it later that night as she went to relax on the Sofa.
Her thoughts paused when she saw a frown on Elis as she joined her on the couch with a datapad in hand.
“I found something out that disturbed me, Alex.”
“Ah? Did I do something wrong?” Alex frowned.
“No. I was reading the news. Let me show you.” Elis turned on the datapad and with a few clicks and swipes the news entry that Elis had found about ‘Her Imperial Majesty Psi’ and Luna causing floods on Earth appeared.
Alex read it, but her eyes were drawn to the picture of the moon. It was covered in what looked like cities and trenches. She couldn’t imagine a construct that big.
Elis explained, “There are other nanites that survived, I think. The moon, that’s what the Entity looked like before it was destroyed. I’ve been researching more on it since I found out. But public information is scarce. There are serious IP locks that need cash to get through, even on basic stuff.”
Alex nodded, still considering the revelation. It was troubling. One thing she had been counting on was that their technology was far superior to everything they encountered. That safety-net was gone if there were others like her, especially if one was ruling something like an entire star-nation.
“A subscription to wiki-star-pedia is a million credits per annum. I’d like to get us one but wanted to ask you first since it is so many credits.”
“I… if you think it’s a good idea, sure. I hate these subscription services, though.”
Elis nodded. “I thought you’d be alright with it, but a million credits for basic information is insane. I never even had half that much after 10 years of service, and we were paid well and purchasing power is essentially the same as it was back then.”
Alex frowned. “I don’t really think of all the money as mine, but like… ours. You deserve it as much as I do… maybe more, even.”
“Thank you for that. I never was a big material chaser, though. As long as I have the things I need for my job, some time to go cut loose... I’m mostly happy.”
Alex tilted her head slightly. “What is your job, anyway?”
A thoughtful look appeared on Elis’s face. After a moment she answered, “Looking after you, mostly.”
Alex scratched the back of her head and smiled. “I’m not that bad, am I?”
“No, you’re perfect.”
Alex’s smile grew, but then slowly disappeared as a worry from her conversation with Portmaster Whitely and Mr. Wyles intruded.
“Before we loaded up at Ackman, Mr. Whitely and Wyles both seemed to bring up the Princess thing. Do you think it has something to do with this Majesty Psi person? If they are a NAI the name might be their Authority level, like mine is Omega and Nameless’s, A31’s, and H33’s is Psi.”
Elis had started to pick up her datapad to read something, but her eye twitched at Alex’s words. She reversed the datapad’s movement calmly before she answered. “Could be. If there are more NAIs around, it could even be likely. Or… well, maybe the NAI Avatar had children? I never heard of anything like that before, but it could be possible if they are more like you…”
Alex looked up at the ceiling. “There was one other thing that came up. It was my lack of last name. They mentioned it along with the Princess bit.”
“It is a little weird to not have one, but I don’t think it’s too strange. There are some cultures where it is even the norm.”
“Still, I was thinking about it a lot. I came up with a few I liked.”
That caught Elis’s attention, and she looked back at Alex. “Oh? And what did you come up with?”
“Well, my second favorite was ‘Alex Starlight’. It goes with the Starlight Revolution thing.”
“Hmm. Alex Starlight. Not terrible, but if that’s your second favorite, what’s your first?”
Alex was pleased at the approval, but she wiggled slightly, hesitating to offer the full name.
Elis raised an eyebrow. “What? Is it a secret? Spill.”
Alex wiggled some more before answering, “Alex Starlight Myers.”
Surprise flashed on Elis’s face before disappearing behind a mask. Tension pooled in Alex’s stomach as the silence stretched.
“You want to get married?”
Shock punched Alex in the gut before she threw a pillow at Elis’s head.
Alex followed up with her best tickle assault, which was quite at effective at sending Elis into a laughing fit. Elis played at fending her off and Alex ended up holding onto the other girl’s middle to keep from being dislodged.
As things calmed down, Elis smiled down at her. “So. Explain to me why you want to use my last name.”
Alex swallowed, the tension suddenly returning to gnaw at her as she did her best to elucidate.
“W..well. Y…you’re like my only family. I th..though you could adopt me as your sister.”
Elis let out a breath, then looked at the ceiling for a moment. Alex felt the fear of rejection return and couldn’t help but hold on to Elis a little tighter.
Elis was still smiling when she looked back down at her, though.
“Surre, kiddo. I’d like that.”
Alex felt a warm fuzzy feeling as Elis started to stroke her hair affectionately. She had already closed her eyes as she settled in to cuddle, so Alex didn’t notice the slightly troubled look on Elis’s face directed at nothing in particular.
USD: The next day
Location: Nu Crateris, Starlight Revolution Convoy, Tears of Fire, en route Dedia IV
It had not taken long for Alex to update the ship and corporation registry with her new name. Distressingly official recognition of her new relationship with Elis wasn’t as easy. Being adopted as a ‘sister’ wasn’t actually a thing, apparently.
Thankfully, that was less important than the actual acknowledgement and agreement between them. Alex honestly cared little about the bureaucratic nonsense that made up the interstellar registry system. She didn’t even have a ‘proper’ entry anyway, as the system spit warnings at her to come for an in-person interview on some planet months away.
There was one happy thought that continued to play on repeat in her head, she had a sister! Elis was her sister!
Humming to herself, she sat down in her seat in the CIC. Her chair lit up with her custom LED lighting that she had made, and she leaned on her console to check the messages the ship had received.
There were a few important ones she’d missed while they had been eating dinner.
“Nameless! Why didn’t you tell me H32’s report came in?”
[Informative: No critical information requires attention.]
“This says here that the colonists reinforced Tifara with a battalion! They have multiple orbit-to-ground bombardment orbitals in position to strike H32!”
[Notice: H3233L has responded properly by developing and extending its defensive capabilities to include strategic bombardment and anti-assault capabilities. Analysis confirms presence of 32 large scale artillery mounts with 100 kilo-ton munitions with pre-targeted coordinates of Dedia Prime. Estimate effective city destruction in one salvo.]
There were millions of people living in the city! Alex opened her mouth to respond, then closed it without a word, horrified. There had only been one packet ship pass through to give her an update while she was in 92 Pegasi, but there had been no message mentioning a cold-war situation brewing between the colonists and H32!
The subcore had drilled out hundreds of kilometers of new tunnels searching for resources, and according to the telemetry snapshot, thousands of drones were present underground and on the surface toiling away tirelessly.
Several massive smokestacks jutted out of the mountainside near the bunker, showing a massive increase in industrial capacity. H32 had been incredibly active in the month they had been away, almost terrifyingly so.
[Informative: Indigenous troops have also fortified the defenses. An assault by colonial infantry is unlikely to dislodge or destroy H3233L’s fortified position. Notice: NAI computronics core room has been relocated 1.5km underneath Tifara Hive’s core chamber.]
“That’s… they can communicate? The Rexxor are defending the structure?”
[Informative: No conclusive communication model has been adapted. However, actions by Rexxor units with H3233L’s robotic workforce indicate a high degree of potential future cooperation.]
Alex noted another message from Captain-Major Thraker to call him at her earliest convenience, as well as a message from Governor Tyler.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, she stood up and ran down the corridor.
USD: The next day
Location: Nu Crateris, Dedia IV, Szizsielia’s Hive
Szizsielia thrummed in annoyance as another one of the metallic workers brought an offering to her. It was one of her nestlings, but with a metal carapace attached to its back. She recognized a round black protrusion as one of the metal thing’s fire-spitters.
The nestling growled and crawled around angrily as it was released, letting out a clipped bark at the larger metal worker. It did not attack, though, having been born and grown in their presence. A nestling did not bite a triumvi.
At least, not until it had grown into a triumvi itself.
Her eldest child had healed from the battle, but imperfectly. He still listed to the side as if he were still wounded. She feared that the damage was permanent. His brother would have likely already attacked and consumed him if she had not intervened and calmed them both.
Neither of them cared for the metallic workers that now prowled her nest.
Szizsielia was not sure what she felt. On one clitter, the constant clipped trill of the metal minds annoyed her. They were intrusive and, once the sky-queen had left, had begun a massive campaign of construction and development without her input.
On the other, she could clearly see that the effects and intent were to her benefit. She did not fully understand the metal-clad’s weapons or defensive structures, but she knew they had weapons that could destroy from the sky, and who was to say that the towers that now dotted the landscape around the nest were not the same ones?
Her scouts had noted more and more of the soft-skins moving into their nearby nest, with their metal carapaces and weapons. She was not stupid; she knew that many of the spawn from their great-nest might hold a hatred for her simply because of the great war they had waged with her mother.
She had extended her nest and her children throughout the many long tunnels the metal workers had provided until they were full of spawning grounds. When food had become an issue, the metal mind had come up with a solution.
Although her children detested the taste of creatures of the water, the metal workers were proficient in growing massive quantities of them incredibly rapidly inside a series of metal tanks fed by the earth water. The water creatures were fed from massive tanks of ocean grass that grew from the sun lamps the metal workers built.
The metal mind even knew how to recycle the dead properly, so nothing was wasted.
A clicking sound gained her attention, and she turned to observe the source. It was the metallic worker that carried a mind. That meant it was time for their continued attempts to communicate.
Szizsielia clicked her clitters in acceptance and it, recognizing the gesture, approached while sending its alien mind-thoughts at her. As always, they were maddeningly clipped. She responded with the proper tones, only for it to repeat them back to her in a garbled mess.