“Which one looks best to you?” she asked. “I mean safest, you know, in the most space worthy condition?”

Did he know anything about spaceworthiness? One of them did look cleaner, less rusty and wasn’t missing a wing.

“I think the one on the right,” he suggested. Yes, it definitely was the same model, just with two wings, one on each side.

“Good,” Cygnus replied. “It’s closer too. Are you ready with the distraction?”

“Are you sure that’s going to work?”

Iain had his doubts. Sure, she’d gone over it more than once, but it seemed to him a ludicrous plan.

“Computers can’t resist a logic puzzle,” she told him, smiling again. “Go over to the intercom.”

When he didn’t move, she pushed him.

“Okay, okay” he said, went over to the intercom and pressed the green button.

“Skipper…” he started. He felt like an idiot.

Hello Iain, the Skipper said. Where are you?

“Around,” Iain offered what sounded rather lame.

Around what?

“Eighty kilos,” he told it.

Are you fucking with me? The voice asked. That’s exactly how Cygnus said it would respond.

She’d stepped up to him, hand lightly gripping his shoulder as she edged up to put her mouth by his right ear.

“Keep going,” she whispered, patted his shoulder, then started to run for the shuttle.

“Are you fucking with me?” Iain asked a little awkwardly.

At the moment, I am not sure, the Skipper replied. Do you want me to?

“If you were fucking with me, how would you do it?” Iain stated. He’d gone over this for over an hour with Cygnus. It still didn’t make sense, but it was obviously working.

“Most species use game theory in their synthetic intelligence designs,” she’d insisted.”

Apparently, she had a rather different concept of game theory than what Iain remembered from college.

Wait, the Skipper said, I am dedicating more resources to this. How would I fuck with you?

“Yes Skipper,” Iain said, grinning despite himself. “Just how would you fuck with me? Think about it.”

How would I fuck with you? Skipper said sounding intellectually enthused, interested and focused. Oh, I know, wait no that, at least not to start with. Ah yes…

Iain glanced across the shuttle bay. Cygnus had crossed it and was now opening the shuttle’s rear hatch. The huge bay bulkhead doors were beginning to open, revealing the to black space. She started waving at him. He started running. the voice of the skipper echoing after him.

So many choices, so many choices, so many choices… Hey wait, I know what you are doing. Stop. You can’t do that.

He jumped into the shuttle and Cygnus sealed the hatch behind him. It clamped shut with clank and a pneumatic hiss.

“Get to the controls,” she ordered and then said to the air. “Auto pilot activate!”

Autopilot activating, a nervous sounding synthetically male voice responded. What can I do for you?

“Um…” Iain started as he got into what looked like the pilots seat behind a console featuring a dizzying array of screens, switches, buttons and keys. There were two, no three that might fit the bill. Or were at least the most obvious controls.

“Start engines,” Iain commanded “Take off, head out the bay door into space.”

The craft didn’t take off. It didn’t even start up.

Iain glanced back at Cygnus, panicked. He pointed at the different controls laid out in front of him.

“Pick one,” she offered in exasperation, still looking out the hatchway windows. “Hurry, the bay doors are starting to close!”

Iain chose a joystick on the right side of the panel, pulled on it. He was left handed. This was going to be a rough ride. Straps immediately bound him to the chair.

“What’s taking so long?” Cygnus asked from right behind him. “We really don’t have much time!”

I’m not programmed for take offs, the autopilot warned. This may not be pleasant. I just thought I’d warn you. For-

 “Just do it!” he yelled, and was instantly pressed back into his seat.

There was a shout of surprise and then a thudding noise coming from the rear compartment.

Iain tried, but couldn’t turn his head from the stars streaming towards him as the shuttle shot out into space.

“Cygnus!” he called.

He thought he heard a moan beneath the roar of the shuttles engines.

“Cygnus, are you all right?!” he yelled.

“Maybe,” he thought he heard her weakly reply.


Go to Chapter Twenty Eight

Go to Chapter Thirty


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