Two years doesn't seem like that long a time; but two years cooped up on a ship, even with James's unexpected company, felt like an eternity.
The entire mission is meant to be four years, with one stop halfway through to replenish supplies and check to see how the ship is doing. It's nothing too strenuous, but this is an experimental ship after all and they're not taking chances. If this run is successful then they'll begin with longer and longer missions.
The ship lands smooth and the feel of fresh air as the doors open sends a giddy thrill through Kozimer. He practically leaps out with a yell of "Make sure the droids don't mess anything up!" to James on his way out.
And if he is a bit undignified as he runs down the gangplank, then at last there aren't any important visitors there to see it. Instead there's a single officer. An anthropomorphic deer-like being, a Cervida was standing to receive him at the bottom with a firm salute ready.
"Your form's sloppy, get that disgrace out of my sight." Kozimer sniffs as he skids to the ground. Ground! Actual ground!
"Go fuck yourself, General, Sir." The Cervida says back with perfect military briskness.
There's a tense silence while they stare each other down for a few seconds.
Kozimer is the one who breaks first and doubles over laughing. He's been on that stupid ship for too long. The Cervida bursts out laughing with him and one firm shove nearly sends Kozimer sprawling on the ground.
"The hell are you doing here Selkvus?" Kozimer asks with a grin, once he can breathe again.
"Ah well they needed a properly high standing official to make sure the empires new General got back in one piece." Selkvus shrugs as they begin walking away from the landing pad and letting the repair droids do their work.
"And you're here because...?" Kozimer nearly goes to the ground again as Selkvus gives him another shove.
"Shut up! You notice how you got promoted to general and then the higher ups instantly shoved you on some tube by yourself where no one would have to deal with you?"
"They don't want me making any of them look bad. Now where is the nearest place I can get actual food that was cooked by real people and not a matter builder?"
Hours later and Kozimer feels wonderfully full, deliriously cheerful, and perhaps a little bit tipsy.
"Pirates?" Selkvus says unbelievingly, "Honest fucking pirates?"
"They weren't honest, they were pirates." Kozimer points out before taking another long swig of his...he's not sure what it is he's drinking actually. But it tastes alright.
"You got boarded by pirates!?"
"And stabbed." Kozimer waves loosely at his side. "By shrapnel. They stabbed me with a damned piece of my own ship, Selks! Bastards."
"Complete bastards." Selkvus agrees.
"Really if it hadn't been for James-" Kozimer sits up straighter, he could kick himself for not remembering sooner. "James! You have to meet James!"
Selkvus blinks, fur ruffling out slightly. "Who? Wait, isn't it a one person mission? As in, that is the point?"
"No no it's not- well not technically. James is the AI I created!"
That gets him a long blank stare. "Wait, so you upgraded the ship's AI or somethin? And you want me...to meet your computer program?" Selkvus puts an emphasis on the 'computer program' part.
"No I wrote him while I was bored. Just something to pass the time but Selkvus you wouldn't believe it!"
"Him?" Selkvusy says blankly.
"Well that's what he says at least but that's not the point! Selkvus he's developing himself! He was supposed to have a natural curiosity and I added an extra learning drive and he's taken off! He's developed a personality and I mean, Stars Selkvus! You should hear the voice he made for himself it sounds like a real thing!"
"The voice HE made?" Selkvus's eyes narrow and his ears swivel back.
Kozimer laughs, remembering how James revealed that new trick. "Hah, yeah the little shit nearly killed me when he came on with that thing. According to him he had gotten bored of talking just through text so he looked up some programming tutorials. Then he somehow synthesized a voice designed how he wanted it and then the fucker hacked into the speakers and about gave me a heart attack."
Selkvus stares at him, fur bristled and whiskers pricked forward. "Koz...this thing doesn't...sound safe."
"What James? No James's harmless!" He avoids mentioning the incident with the pirates. "Come on! You have to meet him!"
"Yeah...yeah ok I'll meet this little program of yours. As much as you can meet a program."
Selkvus is quiet after that and his ears are flat the entire walk back towards the ship. Usually Kozimer would go with his friends instincts, they've been through some ridiculous shit since they were thrown into the same bunk as trainees. And he understands why Selkvus's suspicious! James is something new, something that hasn't even been heard of. And the Cervida was always nervous about things he hadn't heard of.
"Trust me," Koz says as they approach the ship doors, "you'll love-" he never gets to finish telling Selkvus what it is he'll love. As soon as the ship's door slides open every other sound is drowned out by every single alarm and claxon in the ship screeching at once. The sound is like a physical bludgeon to Kozimer' head that pounds against his skull.
Selkvus yells and covers his ears while Kozimer stumbles into the ship. "James! James what the hell are you doing!?"
The cacophony stops instantly and Kozimer shakes his head against the ringing in his ears.
"Koz!" There's a frazzled note to James's voice. "You're back! Where did you go? You were gone!"
"Was that all because I left!?" He had told James he was stepping out!
"I didn't know where you were and usually wherever you go you can answer me when I say things but you didn't! Why did you leave!? Where did you go?!" James is practically hysterical now. "And who is THAT!?
"That," Kozimer says slowly, "is Selkvus. He's a friend of mine." He smiles over at Selkvus, whose looking around with eyes that are about to pop out. Kozimer winces when he sees that the Cervida is in a slight crouch, ready to bolt at any moment. "It's fine, everything is fine." He says, really addressing both of them.
"Koz..." Selkvus says slowly, "it took over your ship. It...Koz this is an imperial vessel! It's impossible to hack into them! That's why-"
"It wasn't hard." James says nastily. "Maybe they should have made the walls better."
Selkvus flinches at that, then lets out a slow breath. "You were right about one thing, it doesn't sound like any normal AI."
Kozimer frowns, "He's not-"
"And YOU don't look like something that isn't supposed to be cooked for dinner!" James interrupts. "Actually, from what I'm seeing, you look like some animal that is often cooked in a variety of ways. I can list them if you want."
"James!" Kozimer hisses, the little idiot is NOT helping his case. "I'm trying to convince my FRIEND that you are not a psychopathic rogue program so could you kindly stop with the threats?"
"Fine." James quips, "I'll leave the cottontail alone. Not like I could do anything anyway, I'm just a bunch of numbers."
Kozimer sighs noisily as James goes quiet. "Oh he's going to be sulking forever now. Damnit!"
"Koz!" Selkvus snaps. "That thing is dangerous! It's completely out of control!"
"He's fine! James was just a little jealous but he wasn't going to do anything! He talks big all the time! He's just throwing a fit because I mean, he's only ever been on this ship with me to talk to. I should have given him some warning before I brought someone else on or left. He's just upset that-"
"Kozimer this is a program! One that you wrote! It can't get upset and if it is then there is something seriously wrong with it!"
"There's nothing wrong with James!"
"It's wild and defective! Koz I am begging you not to go back out there with that thing! It's amazing, I'll give you that. The thing is damned mind blowing but it's out of control! Just let me get a few programmers in and we can maybe try to stabilize-"
Kozimer sees red. They'd take away all the things that made James JAMES. They'd get rid of that stubborn streak and the tendency to play pranks and that bright laugh that James had just developed.
If he let any of those damned people on here they would kill James. "Don't. Touch. Him!"
"Leave him alone, Selkvus! James is mine!"
"Listen to yourself!" Selkvus yells. "Koz this is a computer program! It's an incredibly detailed and complex bit of code but it's still code! You've been on that ship way too long with just that thing to talk to and it's doing things to your head!"
"He's turned into a person Selkvus! You saw that! He's making emotional attachments and having actual reactions to them! This isn't just a string of numbers anymore!"
"Just trust me on this Selkvus! James won't hurt anything!"
Selkvus scowls at him, tense and bristling. "Fine. Just-" He sighs and it's like he's physically deflating, his fur smoothing out and ears falling back, "just be careful with that thing alright? I'll keep in contact as I can, alright?"
Kozimer runs a hand over his face, feeling drained, "Yeah...yeah that's fine. I get it. I'll let you know when I have to dock again."
He waves Selkvus off, ignoring the concerned look the Cervida shoots at him before the door shuts. As soon as he hears the click of it locking he groans and rests his forehead against the cold metal.
"I know you're still listening, James."
James's voice is soft through the speakers, it's so, so painfully real and Kozimer closes his eyes against it. "I'm uh, I'm sorry I freaked out like that. And threatened your friend...I'm not dangerous. I don't think I am at least..." James's voice peters off on a question and Kozimer winces at how lost it sounds.
He sighs, pushing off the door and running a hand through his hair. "You're not dangerous James. You're too....you." He huffs, trying to find the words, he'd never think he'd be needing to reassure what was technically a computer program. James made it very easy to forget what he was. "You have the potential James, if you wanted to you could be dangerous. But the important thing, what makes you special, is you don't want to."
The silence from James is heavy, Kozimer can imagine the AI listening intently, hanging on every word, "I'm sorry as well James, I should have warned you better and explained what was going on before I left. I forget sometimes that you react differently." He forgets that James has never been outside the ship, has never known anything besides the ships systems and Kozimer's company and what he can find online.
"Because AI's always just stay with the ship, right?" James sounds resigned, but there's a touch of bitterness. It's complex and deep and Kozimer is sure now that everything about James is more than just copying data.
"No," he answers, "I mean that I forget you're not-"
"Not real." James finishes.
Kozimer stops, looking around at the walls and flickering lights of his ship. Of their ship. "James," he reaches up, rests a hand alongside the wall and feels the cool metal under his palm, imagines he can feel a heartbeat through the hard, smooth, steel, "you're just as real as any of us." He finishes quietly.
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