SUMMARY: The long night finally ends.
CHARACTERS: Alton Jerome; the Hotel California
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will. The lyrics quoted in this section are a slight variation on a song by Jefferson Starship. We don't own them, either.
NOTES: The second part of the Distress Call universe. Links to all chapters are here.
Callie wakes up -- just like that, an utterly silent bing! of electrons and nanobytes cascading into her consciousness module, and she's awake.
She calculates how long she's been asleep, and if she had a face, she'd purse her lips and raise an eyebrow. That long? If she had the capability to be surprised, she'd cock her head just slightly to one side.
If she could wonder, she'd sit silently for a moment, thinking quietly about where everyone had gone -- the carbon-based life forms who spoke to her and touched her controls, Piloted her between the stars.
But they're not here, and a stranger is standing in front of her main retinal array.
All of this -- the waking, the conjecture, the analysis, has taken less time than the blink of a human eye.
Callie studies the stranger, assesses the possibility of threat.
Stance open, arms folded, no weapons.
She senses that her self-defense nodes have been taken off-line, but that her lazarus net has kept her internal conditions habitable; her external scanners show that she's resting in some other ship's bay and so she taps gently at the larger vessel's comm shields. When she's not instantly rebuffed she queries, but all she receives is the automated i.d. flag of the stranger's ship.
Silver Bay, Regent cruiseliner class, registry number --
Callie continues to listen on one flatchannel while she starts her self-diagnostics on the others.
7.8 seconds have passed since she awakened.
"Hotel California," the stranger says. "I'm Alton Jerome, Captain of the Silver Bay."
Callie engages her babbage engine; Standard and Proto-Standard, metaphors and similes rush through her comm grid like so many tiny insects aloft on clear-optic wings.
"Hello, Captain Alton Jerome," she says, and if she had the capacity for amusement she would laugh out loud at the effect of her four words on Captain Alton Jerome. Her scanners relay the leap in heart rate, the spike in brain-wave activity, the increased respiration. Callie knows her voice is that of her Creator, Dr. Rachel Weiszman, the engineer who programmed her neuronic core. It is a simple, human sound program; none of her previous owners or Pilots have ever reacted to it this way.
"Is there something wrong, Captain Alton Jerome?" she asks. The well-being of every life form on board is her responsibility, and she scans Captain Alton Jerome again for good measure.
"I ... no," Captain Alton Jerome replies, and that's a good sign, so she turns on a few more internal tracers. So many subsets needing repair ...
"I just ... wasn't sure if the new board would work," Captain Alton Jerome says. "My team had to make a few adjustments to get the interface in line."
"I understand," Callie says. "Are you planning to repair the rest of me, Captain Alton Jerome?"
Again, there's the spike in respiration and blood pressure.
"Yes, of course," Captain Alton Jerome says. "We'll need your help, though. And ... you can just call me Captain Jerome."
"As you wish, Captain Jerome," Callie replies. She senses an ethertab port opening on her aft Engineering Deck; the free-fi connect waves lock, and she begins transmitting schematics and chart points.
Captain Jerome stays for a while (15.22 minutes), talking, but it's not about anything important and so Callie spins up the Songs of the Ship as she continues to run diagnostics, transmit data, and respond to Captain Jerome.
All Ships have different Songs, with a few common standards between them -- the Songs the Ship's builders sang as they laid down the hulls and internal beams and Pilot's commands.
Some of the Songs are ancient -- Daisy, Daisy, I Got A Gal, Fast In the Pocket, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Tellin' It On the Crossroads, Callie's own Hotel California. Others are more recent -- Farewell New City, Fire Atlas Mountain, Larceny Rag.
The humans on the Ships never hear the Songs -- occasionally, very late in a Ship's night, a Pilot will catch the faintest whisper on the air --
Have you seen the stars tonight?
Come up with me on 'A' Deck,
And we'll look at them together ...
Tricks of the atmosphere, they'll say. The oldest Ships have the oddest acoustics.
Callie hums along to herself. There are hundreds of Songs in her deepest memory banks, and she knows them all by heart.