At some point soon I might start giving you material from the second draft instead of continuing this. There are so many changes being made! A lot of them are small, but they add up. And, of course, there are a few big ones. Regardless, this rough material follows from the last post just like usual. Enjoy!
“Mariel,” Cesi looks at our host. “Could we please leave this for a later date? We’ll have to continue some other time.”
Mariel’s eyes widen and her head pulls back a little bit. Big round beads at the ends of her braids clack together as her head jerks. “Well, I can hold some of the things that you’ve already ordered,” she spreads her hands, “but I can’t guarantee that I’ll still have everything that you’re looking for when you come back. Not immediately on hand.” Her eyes narrow through her glasses. “Are you saying that you two have to cut and run? Is something wrong?”
“Our parents,” I start talking before I realize that I don’t even know where to go. I’m not sure what’s happened to them, what might be going wrong for them right now. I don’t know how to help. Mariel’s looking at me expectantly, but now words won’t come out again. I keep thinking of all the ways in which things could have gone wrong for our parents.
Maybe the whole conversation was just an emulation of Mom’s voice. Maybe that wasn’t really her there, maybe it was just a recording that they made before pushing her into an airlock and threatening her with space. Suddenly this small room doesn’t feel warm and welcoming anymore. It feels like it’s smothering me.
“Your parents?” Mariel is still looking at me. It isn’t helping.
“They’re in trouble.” Cesi says. How is she able to talk right now? Is she not freaking out like I am?
“That’s what that call was about?” Mariel looks back and forth between us, braids clacking.
“Yes. I think.” Cesi looks at me.
I still don’t know how to put it into words, but I can nod. I can feel the desperation bubbling up in my chest. It comes out in sounds, sounds that it takes me a little while to realize I’m making.
“Barry?” Cesi is standing next to me now, her hands on my shoulder and rocking me back and forth gently in my chair. “Barry, are you okay?”
I look up at her, actually up, like against gravity and everything. It feels weird in my neck. Alien. “We have to go get them!” I blurt it out without thinking about it. “Cesi, they’re in trouble. We have to help.”
Cesi nods. “Ok, let’s do it. How?”
We lean our heads together, talking forehead to forehead.
“If Mom and Dad fooled them, they’ll be expecting us to show up with a bunch of stuff. Whole pallets worth of supplies. At the airlock.” Talking to Cesi is something I can do. Planning this stuff is something I can do. I can make a difference. I can help.
“So do we show up with pallets? Or do we not show up at all? Make them wonder where we are?”
“Right.” I nod, the tiniest movement. Enough that Cesi can feel it though, pressed head to head as we are. “We could get EVA gear, approach from the outside of the ship.”
“Children?” Mariel speaks up. We ignore her.
“But how do we even know what they look like, who they are?” Cesi raises a good point.
“Well…” I think about it for a moment. “Anyone on our ship who isn’t Mom or Dad is clearly one of them, and automatically suspicious. I mean, they’re a bad guy. Right?”
“Sure,” Cesi concedes, “but how do we know who is working with them outside the ship? They won’t all be on our ship. We don’t even know that Mom and Dad are being taken back there.”
“Then how can we even do anything at all?” I close my eyes. I can feel them getting hot with frustration, and I will myself not to cry. It might be working. I don’t feel tears yet. I take a deep breath in, but it feels shaky and shuddery. Especially on the exhale.
Cesi is silent. I can hear her sniffle a little too.
“Children,” Mariel cuts in again, “I don’t like the sound of what you’re planning. This sounds foolish and dangerous.”
I squeeze my eyes a bit harder, like it will shove Mariel away. Something hot and wet leaks from my eyes, and I think I’m crying, but then it runs down my cheek instead of beading up and floating away. It’s such a weird sensation, I don’t even know what to think.
More dangerous than alone with strangers.
“Oh.” I don’t have the answer, but I have another piece of the puzzle. “They want Daemon, don’t they.”
I can hear the same click of recognition in Cesi’s voice. “Yeah.” Like we’ve found a handle, something labeled ‘twist here,’ even if we don’t know exactly what it will do.
Another thought shoots through me, filling me with fear again. This time it’s cold, like a shiver. “Will they find the relay?” We might lose contact with Daemon at any moment.
A little shake of Cesi’s head. “Not unless they pull off the terminal access hatch. I fit it inside that and sealed Daemon back up again like when we found them.”
Relief feels warm. “We could ask Daemon for ideas. We could let them know that they’re in danger.”
Cesi murmurs agreement, and I can see the terminal flickering with a conversation between her and Daemon.
Mariel is moving around the room, doing something while we try to solve our problems.
Cesi speaks up again. “We need pass codes, something that will let Daemon know that we’re the ones talking. And Daemon needs to wipe the screen every time that we finish a line of conversation.” I can already see the second half of that showing up in Cesi’s chat with Daemon.
“I’ll write something to capture the text on our end, so that it doesn’t have to stay up on the screen.” I pull out my coding terminal, putting my words into action. It doesn’t take long. It’s just a quick and dirty key logger, using characters on the screen instead of keyboard inputs. Daemon’s default display font is easy enough for it to read and transcribe, and it can capture it fast enough that Daemon can display a single character at a time so fast that it looks more like a cursor flicker if you’re only looking at their screen.
Of course, doing this will let Daemon know that we’ve connected them to the outside world, at least surreptitiously. I hope those anti-AI fanatics are all wrong.