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Short Story – My Best Friend by Kristopher Hoffman

Not many girls can claim that their best friend while growing up was a warship. I can. You see, my father was a diplomat on a Sun Descending class Corvette. Yeah, I know, they decommissioned all of those long ago, but we still fly her. Just because the fleet has a new kind of ship doesn’t mean the old ones aren’t worth having. My dad got her for a mint. Well, he bet a mint, I think. Daddy liked to gamble. You might say he got his mint and ate it too.

The Sun Descending class of ships was one of the first to have integrated artificial intelligence on board every one. Before then, it was rare to find them on most military ships, and even then, they were after market add ons. Now days, every ship has one. The science of AI is very in vogue right now. They almost have it perfected, not at all like the old days. The first ones had personality – a deplorable excess of personality. Ours is no exception. She was once the C.A.W. Tyria. Tyria was the name of an old Terran deity. In the mythology of old, she was a goddess of wind, intellect, and beauty. Now, she’s just Tyria – or T. She’s simply beautiful.

It’s kind of hard to understand unless you were there. The old holographic memory computers, since they relied on visible light, were easy to build. Eventually, the stresses involved with the lasers and processing of information caused microscopic fractures in the crystal’s structure. Simply put, the older AIs got glitchy, developing idiosyncrasies that made them frustrating for techs and military personnel to work with. Personally, I think it makes them more human.

The Sun Descending class of ships was also the only line of ships to have an avatar. The military shrinks thought that if an artificial intelligence looked human—instead of being a face on a holographic display or a disembodied voice—people would be able to relate better. It didn’t work. Most people thought that the avatars were creepy. Even when they didn’t know that they were talking to an android, they were weirded out by them.

As long as I can remember, Tyria was there. She was my nanny. She was my tutor, and she was my best friend. A lot of girls grow up with an android as a nanny or servant. Most androids are overly polite and are appalled by man’s inhumanity to man. Not so with Tyria. She taught me how to fight, sparred with me, and taught me how to survive in every situation. Because of her military programming, she had a barely controlled rage lurking just under the surface. There were times where I had to remind her that harsh words and sexual harassment were not a life threatening situation.

She’d look at me with a slight pout on her face and say, “Oh. I won’t kill him, I promise!”

I would always giggle. I just couldn’t help myself. It was so absurd to see this seasoned and decorated war hero pouting at me.

“Oh come one, Milli! Let me rough him up a little! Please?”

I’d just shake my head at her and laugh some more. Then we’d walk away. You know the walk, the one that makes men’s hearts fail? Step and sway, step and sway. Damn, we were naughty.

When the military replaced her and decommissioned the ship, they stripped her of all of her weaponry. They did leave the armor and shield, though. Daddy told me that Tyria had a serious identity crisis when she lost her guns. But that was before I was born. Since we travel into some of the roughest sectors in human space, daddy has had several weapons systems installed. She has as much firepower as a civilian ship can legally wield. I don’t think she’s quite happy, but it’s the best we can do. Anything more would be criminal.

Tyria’s the best friend a girl could have. She’s intelligent, funny, sweet, and she always looks out for me. She is also stubborn, snotty, overly aggressive, and a bit dense at times. Overall, these are all the ingredients for a best friend. Just preheat the oven to 375, mix well and bake for 15 minutes. Though, being friends with an AI can be hard. See, as we organics grow up and mature we develop the wiring needed to deal with our internal storm of emotions. The AIs are “born” completely mature, and therefore never have a formative stage. They are sentient. They get happy. They get sad. They love and hate. They do it all, just like the rest of us. But they are not really equipped to deal with the full gamut of human emotion.

There was an old movie that we watched once. It made me laugh. They called their robots “droids.” There was this alien and he was almost seven feet tall and covered in hair. One of the robots and the alien were playing a game. Then this guy tells the robot to let the alien win because “droids” don’t pull people’s arms out of the socket when they lose. I am sure you’ve all seen it. Tyria often talks to the holovid when watching movies or broadcasts. I keep telling her that they can’t hear her, and all she does is stick her tongue out at me.

When the guy said this, she stood up and yelled, “Bullshit! I can take that giant monkey on any day!”

Then she took off her shoe and threw it at the display. I think she needs to see a psychiatrist – or a good mechanic. On the plus side, it’s a good thing that shoes are not weapons of war. She missed.

There was another difference between mechanics and organics. We derive our physical traits and appearance from the gigabytes of data contained in our DNA. We don’t have much choice in it at all. Oh, you can go out and get some surgery and change it, but you have to get licenses and register with the authorities. Not to mention that it’s painful and expensive. Each AI decides what they look like. Most of them have an image that is displayed on a holoscreen, so they have to pick a face to show everyone. They choose what they look like and they all look great. You can’t get most of them to admit it, but they are all incredibly vain. Tyria once told me that her appearance was a random compilation of features.

I asked her, “So, you look like this completely randomly?”

“What? Is there something wrong with the way I look?” she asked, looking down at her body.

“Oh,” I giggled, “there’s nothing wrong with it. I just find it hard to believe that this was completely random.”

“Cross my heart!”

“You don’t have a heart.” I giggled again. I love getting her all worked up.

“Okay, then. Cross my,” she looked down at her chest, “my low pressure nanogel pump servo. This appearance was created completely at random.”

“It’s completely random, and you’re so hot that I, a straight woman, wanna throw you down and have my way with you. I don’t believe it.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” She put her hands on her hips, cocked her head, and raised an eyebrow. I taught her that move, so it didn’t work on me.

“No. I am saying I find it hard to believe.”

“Well,” she said, looking at the ground, “it wasn’t the first appearance I generated, but it was randomly generated!”

I pointed at her, laughing. “I knew it! I knew it! You vain creature, you!”

“I am not vain. I chose this appearance for the sake of my old crew.”

“Say what? How is this for the benefit of the crew?”

“It is a well known fact that ninety-five percent of military personnel are male. Most men prefer to interact, on the social level, with an attractive female.”

“Oh, I see.”

She nodded.

“You chose this form to make the men-folk feel better. It was a total sacrifice on your part. Given your druthers, you’d have chosen a less dazzling face?”

Again she nodded, with a smug little smile on her face.

I asked, “So, how many other faces did you generate before you settled on this one?”

“Enough,” she said. She turned and began to walk away.

Barely restraining laughter I said, “Enough? What the hell does that mean? How many, Tyria?”

She turned to face me, glaring slightly, “Well, I don’t remember the number exactly, but somewhere in the neighborhood of seven hundred, fifty-three thousand, one hundred and thirty-two.”

I burst into a fit of spastic laughter at this. “But it was all completely random. I want to see some of the others!”

“No.”

“Yes, I want to see them.”

“No.”

“I’ll just access them from the terminal in my quarters.”

“You do that, and I will break your fragile human hands.”

With mock horror I said, “Well the choice is yours. You can either maim your best friend or show them to me of your own free will. Either way, I am going to see them. And if I have my hands all splinted and clumsy, who knows what I might click on. I mean, with the pain killers they’ll give me for the broken bones, I just might accidentally attach them and hit send to my entire distribution list. I mean, you never know what I’ll do all loopy on meds.”

“Fine.” She scowled. Her scowl was the facial expression I didn’t have to teach her. It was as natural as, well, anything else she did.

I had other friends growing up, but none of them were like Tyria. Most little girls don’t know what it’s like to actually be friends with someone. They live too much in the now and never consider anything else. Since my father was a diplomat, we were constantly traveling. The Confed’s space was a couple of weeks from end to end, and we were farther out than that for most of his assignments. You can see that it made it hard for me to have any long lasting friends that weren’t on board with us all the time.

What was worse was my love life growing up. Daddy, because of his work, constantly attended dances, dinners, and balls, all in his honor. Star systems outside of the Confederation often had kings or queens or dukes or viscounts. That’s right: we managed to work out all of our problems and create a unified planetary government and make the jump to the stars, only to revert to a system of government that relied on archaic titles and barbaric plays for power and antiquated rituals. When we went to these backwater kingdoms, they often thought I had been brought to sweeten the deal – as an offering of marriage to their sons. I could see it in Daddy’s eyes – he was offended by these assumptions and requests, but he was an awesome diplomat. He was always polite but firm, and in spite of the refusal, almost always got what he came for.

There was this one place, the Star Empire of Calondil, that was really bad. The Family, (they said it with a capital ‘F’, I swear) had changed the name of the star system when they came into power. Their rule was based on the concept that everything that the ruling Family said was absolute law and truth. I am not sure how they had done it, but, somehow, they had convinced their constituency that they were gods. Yup, you read that right. In this modern age, they convinced over a billion people that they were gods. What’s worse, they had bought into their own hype and believed it themselves.

They were understandably upset when Daddy told them, “No, my daughter is not part or the peace offering.”

The no didn’t stop them, though. While the negotiations were going on, the Emperor and his Wife (I told you, you could hear the capital letters when they spoke) told their eldest son to give me a tour of the palace and its grounds. It was an incredible structure, the oldest building in the system. Every ruler had simply added to it. It wasn’t long before I was lost. That’s when it happened.

We rounded a corner, and passed his little brother. After we passed him, the younger boy shot me in the back with a stunner. He was a good shot; he hit me right where my spine met my hips. The shot was aimed to keep me from struggling, but not knock me unconscious. I landed on my face, vaguely aware that my nose had broken when I hit the floor, but too dazed to really care. Then they rolled me over. The older one pulled a knife from his belt and cut my shirt open up the center of the front, and the younger was struggling to pull my Kevlar weave pants over my hips. He got frustrated and stood up, dropping his pants instead.

Evidently the smaller of the two had dropped his stunner behind him, because he was caught totally by surprise as Tyria lifted him off the ground and stuck it between his ass cheeks and fired. The first shot made him yelp and jump like a frog on a hot plate. He started struggling, but the second shot stopped that. His eyes were open and he was drooling a little bit.

The bigger brother was frantically struggling to get him out of Tyria’s grasp when she slammed the smaller one against the wall with the words, “Bad boy!”

Stunners were meant to be used at range. While a person could, conceivably, be killed by one, it took a shot to the soft pallet or an open eye at a range of no more than five feet. Anything else would just intensify the stunner’s effects and leave a nasty burn. The littler boy was in no real danger when she shot him the third time, barrel against his chest.

The only thing I could move was my eyes, and I was terribly aware of the fact that I was exposed while laying on the cold cement. The older boy, desperately trying to free his brother from my best friend, plunged the knife deep into her back, just above the hips, aiming for where a human kidney would be. She spun faster than his eyes could follow, ripping the handle of the knife from his grasp. Her hand whistled through the air connecting in a knife hand strike against his wrist.

There was an unpleasant, wet crunchy noise when she did that, and his arm bent midway between elbow and wrist. He screamed for a second, then made a gargling noise, and his eyes rolled back into his head as he passed out from the pain. What a pussy. I broke my femur once on Cassini Station and crawled back to the ship. Tyria took off the ankle length coat she always wore and wrapped me in it. When I was able to stand and walk, she took the pussy by one ankle and dragged him behind us all the way back to the negotiations.

We walked in and the Emperor and his Wife went nuts. They were yelling, both of them talking at once. It was impossible to understand either of them. Tyria raised one finger to her lips in a signal to be quiet, and to their credit, they did. Then she pulled her personal recorder out of a pocket in the coat I was wearing, and pulled a data crystal from a socket in her neck. She stuck the crystal in the machine, hit play. The entire incident played out in glorious tri-d, high resolultion, stereoscopic projection. She turned and walked out, pulling me gently along. In spite of this incident, Daddy managed to get the treaty that the Confed wanted.

Nope. Not every girl can say that their best friend growing up was a warship. I can. And I was glad she was.  

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