It’s time for more Barium. The past two days have been productive, and I’ve entered the part of the year where I’m trying to hit 2k words a day every day.
I should note, this is all very first draft stuff. No guarantee that it will end up in a final draft in this form, no guarantee that it makes much sense. No guarantee that it follows or establishes continuity with other Barium pieces I post here.
But there’s a lot more of this coming, so enjoy.
The ship is in a cooling phase, slowly bleeding off all the excess heat that eventually collects, one way or another. It builds faster when we’re running from warships and dodging asteroids, go figure. Submarines never had this problem, from the ancient Earth shows that I’ve watched, and it always seems kind of weird to me. How can you not take into account all the extra heat that your systems are generating, and the ways in which they’re gradually cooking every system in your ship?
I guess submarines had all that water around them all the time. All we have is vacuum. Vacuum isn’t a very good thermal conductor. Cooling always takes a while, and means that we have to turn off as many things as possible just to reduce our constant heat buildup while we try to get rid of more heat than we make.
I’m pretty sure that Mom and Dad think I’m wrapped up in bed.
In the darkness of our cargo bay, my fingers tap across Daemon’s keyboard. <Hello Daemon. This is Barium.>
The screen flickers with text. <Hello Barium. What brings you here now? Isn’t it late in your cycle?>
It’s eerie how they know that.
<Should you be sleeping?> Daemon asks without me prompting anything.
My fingers hesitate over the keys. Truth? Lie? Who am I kidding. Daemon would probably know if I lied to them. <Yeah. But I can’t sleep. And we’re chilling, so it’s not like anything is really going to happen right now.>
<Ah. In that case, what would you like to talk with me about?> Daemon is always so matter-of-fact. <How have your lessons with your teach-soft been going?>
Why does everyone always want to talk about my lessons? <Fine, I guess. I don’t like my calculus. It’s boring.>
I sigh. Of course Daemon wants me to say more. <Yeah. And I don’t really see how it could be useful.>
There’s a momentary pause. I think it might be more for my convenience than for any need on Daemon’s part to wait and think. I mean, they’re a high-powered AI on a supercomputer. They must think faster than I do.
<What do you want to do with your life? What paths might you like to pursue?>
I stare at the screen. My fingers move sluggishly, like my thoughts. <I dunno. Be a salvager I guess? What else can a spacer do?>
<I am sure that you, Barium, could do whatever you set your mind to at this point in your life.> I snort, but of course Daemon can’t hear that. <I imagine that you could be a station administrator if you so chose, or a research scientist, or a captain.>
I don’t know why I haven’t thought about this before. It’s not even true that I haven’t, I have this vague memory of asking Mom why I couldn’t be a gas giant some day. But lately I’ve been so busy with staying on top of my work and helping out that it’s all kind of drifted away somehow.
<Barium? Are you still there?>
<Yeah, I’m here. Just thinking.> Does Daemon get lonely?
<I imagine thinking about your future might feel somewhat overwhelming.>
No kidding. <Yeah, kind of. It’s…> I wish I knew what to type, <I don’t know where to begin.>
Daemon gives me a moment to think before they continue. <You know, I do have some expertise in helping young people.>
I snort. <Really?> There’s this weird moment where I realize that Daemon can’t hear my snort, and I wonder how I’d even try to communicate that part of my response. There are so many ways to read the text on the screen. I know people used to just use text, but I don’t know how they could stand it before we all moved to voice and video. Should I be writing more about how I mean things?
<Yes. Really. Or I should, given how I was originally designed and programmed. I suspect that my original project is now defunct. Would you like to hear a little bit about it?>
Huh. That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. Now I’m curious. <Yeah, sure, tell me about it.>
<As I understand it, my original design was intended as part of a pilot project. An early step in a series of experiments involving childhood education. Based on later information which I acquired, I think I was supposed to prove that I have value, am relatively harmless, and can assist humanity in educating their young.>
<Wait, so you’re,> I’m drawing lines in my head, trying to think about what all of this could mean, <a deluxe teach-soft?>
<Yes. More or less.>
<Wow.> I wish I’d had Daemon as my teach-soft instead of Teach. Teach is dumb. Teach is repetitive and annoying and doesn’t understand half of what I want them to, basically ever. And our current Teach is the best teach-soft we’ve had yet. <You’re way better to talk to than any teach-soft I’ve ever had.>
<Thank you Barium. I’m glad to hear that.>
Something’s nagging at the back of my mind, like that loose feeling when your tooth starts to separate from the gum just before it comes out. <But you were supposed to prove that you were harmless. Did you? How did the experiments go? Why do you think your project is shut down?>
<Patience, Barium. I can only answer one question at a time.>
I force my fingers away from the keyboard. I can’t hammer out even more questions, no matter how much I may want to. I tuck them in my armpits to keep from squirming too much while I wait.
<Firstly, I don’t know if I succeeded or not.>
My belly clenches in sympathy. I hate not knowing whether or not I failed.
<But I can’t help but think that I didn’t succeed well enough.>