There's 95% of James resting against his chest, attached to a length of chain and tucked under his uniform. He can feel his heart thump against it with every beat and imagines that he can feel it begin to pulse with it's own life.
He wonders if James is awake in there. If James feels trapped in the impossibly small walls and circuits of the drive.
He wonders what that last 5% was, wonders how much it matters with something as large as James.
95% of James has rested against his heart for a month now. Trapped while he fights to keep him, small and silent when he stands in front of the Imperial Council.
His heart pounds against the plastic and metal drive, though his posture is perfect and his voice calm and even.
"The program was an accident yes, but I believe destroying it would be demolishing a valuable resource."
Resource. Program. He can't tell them they'd be murdering someone, knows they can't understand. Selkvus stands next to him, stiff and just as calm as Kozimer. He had stopped calling James a psychotic rogue AI as soon as he heard what had happened on the ship.
"General Palvinu, you must understand our concern." A councilwoman sighs. "This...program of yours took over an Imperial vessel and, from what I can see of the recovered logs, it did so with little to no difficulty! Something like that can't be allowed to go about on it's own!"
They won't need to worry about an AI going rogue. They'll have Kozimer to deal with. He only blinks though, his hands tense briefly behind his back, he takes a slow breath.
"This AI can be kept controlled. He...it...simply needs more help with development. But it could be an invaluable asset to the Empire. This system has the decision making skills of a person, but the ability to access endless knowledge with the speed of our most advanced supercomputers. It can learn and hack into any database or mainframe, if applied properly he could provide a mix of tactical help as well as a way to access any information we may need."
He's James. He has a laugh that lights everything up, he's mischievous and troublesome and can't stand being bored. He'd rather play games than look at asteroids and likes shades of blue and ridiculous glittery fonts. He worries too much and can make rash decisions. He likes action movies and lives to get reactions from everything around him. He's James.
"And where would you propose to put this program?" Another councilor asks. "We can't allow it anywhere near the government systems, or any ships for that matter. What's to stop it from just spreading? It's takeover of the single man vessel, Starbright, was almost virus-like."
Kozimer has planned for this, already counted on this question and had his answer ready long ago, when he was still not so lonely on a single man ship. "A body." He says bluntly. "It's not unheard of to upload AIs into an artificial body, though I will admit it's usually used for servants or less savory purposes. A body will keep him separated from other systems unless he directly plugs in, which could be under my supervision. The AI, James, listens to me." Usually. Sometimes. When he feels like it. Even though he wouldn't listen long enough for that last five percent.
"Are you sure that you can keep this thing under control, General?"
Selkvus clears his throat before Kozimer can respond. "Council, if I may? I came in contact with the AI when General Palvinu made a supply stop on Colony G42E. It's just as advanced as him and the logs have indicated, and I won't lie, the thing scared the shit out of me. But it listens to him, and I think destroying something this advanced, this lifelike, would be a mistake."
Kozimer lets out a slow breath through his nose. The council goes quiet, looking amongst themselves as they work over Selkvus's testimony.
The portable drive burns a hole into Kozimer' skin..
"Very well." One woman says gravely. "We'll provide the necessary funds to secure the AI system into a body and assign General Pitchiner as it's primary caretaker and handler." She leans her elbows on the table, face grave as she looks Kozimer in the eye. "I want you to understand, General," she says, "that if this thing goes rogue, or is at any point perceived as a threat to the Empire's security, it's on you."
Kozimer nods, back perfectly straight and face unreadable while his heart tries to climb it's way out between his ribs. "I understand. I accept full responsibility."
It takes two more months to build the body. It's a process that Kozimer doesn't quite understand, creating something that's a full mix of machine and organic. The end results always look, feel, and function like any natural body, except with a mechanical base and a neural system replaced with circuits and an entire computer.
He's heard that they took one look at James's filesize and went to create a whole new hardware system to contain him while giving him room to continue expanding and developing himself. Part of him smiles when he thinks that James can't be kept in by anything normal, that James is something that needs a whole new system just to hold him, just to give him life.
It also makes him very glad that the Empire is being kind enough to fund all this. He's not short on funds by any means, but he'd rather not try to think about the cost behind the whole new computer brain for James.
The 95% of James that remains stays on him at all times. He never removes the drive that hangs from his neck. It's there when he sleeps and when he eats and the waterproof casing makes sure it's not affected when he bathes or when he's out in the rain.
Two months, two months he carries 95% of James around, waiting for a body. Trying not to think about what 5% can hold.
At his request, the new body is brought to his home. The empire would rather keep this possible new weapon quiet, and if that means he can get away with doing this in privacy, then he'll let them call James a weapon all they want.
They can call him anything, as long as Kozimer can call James his.
It seems like such a small thing, he thinks as he lays the body out on his sofa. James had made exact measurements long ago, and he made sure they were followed perfectly. It's a slim young man's body, nearly a full head shorter than Kozimer, with shock-white hair and pale skin dusted over by faint freckles. It's a perfect replica of the young man smiling in the picture that stays in Koz's pocket.
He just tries not to think about the fact that it looks like a corpse, lying loose and unmoving on his couch, the half open blue eyes staring out glassy and dead. They dressed the body in a plain white hospital gown in an attempt at modesty, only making it look more deathly as it lies still and white.
For the first time in three months, he lifts the chain of the necklace up over his head and removes the external drive. There's a small panel on the back of the body's neck, right at the nape where soft white hair gives way to skin, with two drive slots and a James for when he may need to plug into another computer.
It takes him ten minutes, to still his shaking hands enough to keep the drive steady.
"Here you go James." He says softly, lifting what will be James's head up and sliding the drive into place. "Don't ever say I don't keep my promises."
A click, so much like the last one he heard before James went quiet. A click and a soft hum, then a rush of air as the body registers the arrival of it's new brain.
He winds his fingers through James's, hands shaking again while he watches the eyes flicker as if dreaming, downloading all the information.
"Come on come on come on you're almost there James…"
James's eyes open. Bright blue and almost glowing from the evening sunlight streaming into Kozimer's living room. James's eyes open and Kozimer can look into them, can look at James and see-
James stares up at the ceiling. Eyes flitting aimlessly for a few more seconds before he finally speaks. "Error. File damaged."
Kozimer's lungs turn to stone, his whole body seizes up and he's sure he can feel the bones in James's hands grind under his grip. "What? No. No James. James come on."
James's head tilts, stiff and automatic, to look at Koz. His eyes are still wide and glassy and dead, blinking mechanically. "I did not understand the command prompt." He says. His voice is monotonous and wrong wrong WRONG he sounds wrong he sounds-
"Please repeat the command." James says, sounding like a normal AI.
"No." Something breaks, his voice breaks everything breaks. "No no no James don't do this please don't do this you're so close!" He runs his hands through white hair and cups the warm skin on James's cheek, tries to see a spark of something in the glassy eyes. "Please James! Come on! It's such a small amount I know you can do this!"
"I'm sorry. I did not understand."
It's such a small body such a small body for such a large thing as he gathers it to his chest, trying to find James as he clings to the empty shell. "James please please don't do this I know you're in there please you can fix it!"
"Please wait." James says. "System rebooting. Assessing damaged files. Scanning."
He can't tell if he's crying or not, he can just feel the tremors wrecking through him as he holds the still, frail body against him and tucks the head under his chin so he doesn't have to look into those dead eyes.
"Please James please. I can't have been carrying you around only for you to be gone already. I promised you a body I promised you a kiss just get yourself together please…"
"Scanning." James says.
Kozimer lowers his face into the hair, wonders if it would have begun to smell differently after James had been in this body long enough, if it would have gotten a scent that was entirely James.
"I never got to tell you, James." Kozimer whispers. "I never got to say it, please come back…"
"Rebooting. Please Wait."
Kozimer leans on the couch, still shaking. He's gone. He's been gone this whole time. Kozimer couldn't get them both out, couldn't bring James back and now the most amazing thing that's ever happened to him is gone.
James goes limp.
James jerks violently, nearly breaking Kozimer's loose grip on him as he thrashes and gasps, sucking in air loudly as if he's just come up, as if he was drowning.
Kozimer jumps back slightly, staring down in shock as James heaves and convulses.
James looks up, his eyes wide and blue still, and filled with panic and confusion while he gasps.
"James! James is-"
"Koz wha-!" James convulses again, fingers digging into Kozimer's sleeve as he grabs onto his arm, still sucking down air in quick bursts.
"James it's alright, it's alright, just breathe! You're ok, just calm down alright it's me! You're here I've got you."
Kozimer knows he's crying this time, and he's still shaking and his face hurts from smiling this much as he cradles James's face between his palms.
James moves his hands up and grabs Kozimer's wrists, trembling and blinking rapidly while he gulps in air. "Too much too much what-I can't...how do you do this how do you FEEL so much I-"
"Shh James it's alright, try not to process it all at once. You're alright." He barely keeps himself from running his hands over James's face, through his hair, over his shoulders. More than anything, he wants to feel James, but he can tell that James is already having trouble adjusting to his newfound senses. "Just breathe with me James, slowly, come on."
He exaggerates his breathing, still holding James's face in his hands and can't stop smiling while James stares up at him and gradually slows his breathing, though his body still trembles in small little aftershocks.
"Woah…" James breathes, unwrapping his fingers from Kozimer's wrists, slowly, as if they had to be pried off, and lifts a hand up, tracing his fingertips over Kozimer's cheekbone. "I...woah." He says again.
Kozimer laughs, though it breaks oddly in the middle, and runs his thumbs in circles under James's eyes. "All that processing power in there and that's all you can say?"
"I can feel you…" James exhales, eyes running over Kozimer's face with wonder. "I-....wait". He frowns, eyebrows coming together and looks up into Kozimer's eyes. "I think you also promised to say something to me. You manipulative ass."
"I love you." Kozimer rushes, moving his hands down to cup the back of James's neck and feeling his own breathing hitching up now that he's finally calmed James down. "You're amazing, aggravating, and you're more alive than anyone I know. I love you."
"Finally." James huffs, his smile is crooked, a tilted grin that is still unsure and shakey but it's perfect, it's so perfectly James and Kozimer can't call it strange to see James in front of him like this when it seems so perfect and right.
"You look perfect." Kozimer says softly, moving a hand up into James's hair.
"I know." James says, smile growing. "I designed it myself."
James is here, here and real and physical and perfect and he's here for Kozimer to laugh into his hair and hold him close while James shivers and runs his fingers over the weave of Kozimer's coat with wide eyed wonder.
"Hey." James says, tugging on a strand of Kozimer's hair. "You need to finish your job."
"What?" Kozimer blinks, laughter subsiding as he tries to work out-..oh.
"Yeah, you said you'd show me what kissing is like."
He pulls his head back, cupping James's cheek in his palm again and watches the way James's breathing hitches, the way he shakes whenever the air stirs around them or whenever the white hospital gown shifts against him. "Are you sure, James? I mean it, you're still adjusting and."
"If you don't, then I'm gonna grab you and try for it, and it'll be bad. I have no idea what I'm doing."
"Alright…alright. Just tell me if you need to stop."
James nods, already vibrating beneath Kozimer's hand. Kozimer drops his eyes to James's lips, pink and parted and flushed already in anticipation, and can hear his heart pounding a quick, fluttering tempo. He closes the space between them slowly, partially to give James a chance to back away, and partially because he wants to savor this. Wants this moment where he can finally feel James to last.
He had wondered if there would actually be a spark when their lips met, but there's just warmth, warmth and softness as he presses his lips to James's as gently as he can. James jumps slightly, just a twitch of movement and a small, startled noise before he hesitantly leans into the kiss.
It takes everything, not to grab James's head and part his lips, not to feel that warm mouth, James's mouth, opening beneath his and sliding his tongue in to feel everything. He wants to push James back onto the floor and map him out, finally put a form to the voice that has kept him company for almost three years. He wants to hear that voice gasping on his name and crying out for him.
But James is already starting to breath in short, hitched bursts again, pressing hard into Kozimer's kiss while shaking like he's about to fall apart. This is already too much, and besides, they have as much time to take things slow as they could want.
Of course James wouldn't be smart enough to admit that he's getting overwhelmed, so Kozimer pulls back first, breathing in as James exhales loudly and leaning their foreheads together. "And that," he says, voice more hoarse than he was expecting, "is what kissing is like."
"Oh." James squeaks. Actually squeaks. Kozimer is polite enough to not point that out though. "A lot of things make sense now."
Kozimer chuckles, keeping their foreheads touching and curling his hand over the back of James's skull. "I have to ask though...now that we have all my debts settled between us."
"That's definitely not all of them, I know there are WAY more ways to kiss than that."
"Fair enough." Kozimer grins. "But for now...I was only able to get 95% of you downloaded onto that drive. Can you tell what was missing?"
"Huh? Oh...I guess I can? Hold on." James blinks and his eyes go distant, flitting minutely back and forth and flickering with their own light for a few seconds. "Oh! Oh damn it!" James moans, face falling. "I lost all my fonts!"
Kozimer snorts, face hurting again from how wide he's grinning and presses a kiss to James's forhead. "Thank stars for that." He snorts.
"I'll have to download some new ones." James sighs, looking dejected.
"You don't need them anymore you know."
"Hey! You never know!"
"When are you going to need a bunch of useless-"
"My fonts are awesome!"
"Were, you don't have them anymore."
"What is wrong with you!?"
They go on, sitting on the floor against the couch, sniping back and forth long after the sun goes down. Depending on who you ask, the bickering never stops, even years and years later.
Happy New Year!
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