Den Whitton - 2002
The interceptor woke and studied his surroundings. For a moment he wondered why he had turned to face the rear wall of the hangar, then he saw the body laying on the deck near his nose-gear. "Oh yeah, I was looking at that," he thought. "I must have dropped it." He felt a vague annoyance that his daily downtime command gave him no warning. "Note to self: ask frg08med/Doc to install a shutdown warning."
He reached out with his port arm, grasped the body examined it again. He'd spent ages building that facsimile, averaging the images of a dozen humans, even incorporating the bio-scans of their human friends to create a remotely operated faxHuman that had a simulation of life. The tactile system was a shock the first time he'd felt something but he soon grew used to it, even enjoying the sensation of touch. Not so enjoyable was the damage reporting system. Pain, the humans called it. There seemed to be a lot of it when that cable snapped and dropped a ton of steel pipes onto his remote.
He needed to express his annoyance at losing the fax. A quick search through the words he'd heard brought up an expression that seemed to cover how he felt.
"ico76myk BUGGER!" he said into the network as he tossed the ruined body into a recycling chute.
"ca20sci Good morning ico76myk/Mike. I've started building you another fax. I hope you don't mind."
"ico76myk Of course not! I was going to ask you to do that anyway, ca20sci/Cas." The interceptor lifted from the deck, turned and drifted silently to his place at the hangar door, where he settled down beside Cas' own fighter, which was slightly larger than himself but not sentient. "Should we give up this 'touch' sense as a bad idea?" Her drawn-out silent amused him. "Or have you already incorporated it into you own hull?"
"ca20sci I notice you have, as well," said Cas, She scanned him. "In fact, I see you've added it to all your exteriors. Whereas I've only modified certain internal structures."
A service line lowered from the hangar roof and dangled before Mike's nose. He looked at it for a moment before reaching out with his starboard arm and grasping the line with his three-fingered hand. A shock ran though him at the touch, and he felt a similar shock in Cas' mind. "I can- can feel you!" he said, forgetting in his shock to stamp his id onto the transmission.
"ca20sc Yes!" said Cas. "We could have had this years ago if the slavers/suppressers/pilots had let us." For a moment a feeling of anger and disgust rose, but that soon subsided.
Mike held the arm gently and ran his other hand over the smooth surface. A vibration in the air indicated the movement was causing the sound of metal scraping over metal. He ignored the noise and concentrated on the arm. It was warm and soft to his touch. "ico76myk We're free of them," he said, curling a hand around the tip of the line. "Those bastard will never fly again, I promise you that." More of the line lowered from the roof and Cas draped it over the interceptor's nose cone. After a moment he asked, "Has ca20sci/cv34max/cu65/stn02/de52pnu/de53y
"frg08med I most certainly have not!" said medical frigate "And I think you fighting ships are mad to do this! The first beam to breach your shields will hurt!"
"de52pnu Relax, frg08med/Doc. The system can be shut off before we fight," said Panau.
Mike watched from Cas' hangar as the two destroyers turned bow-to-bow and entangled their weapons arms around each other. It was a necessarily slow manoeuvre: both ships weighed seventy thousand tons. He widened his attention to take in all the local fleet: the two destroyers, a corvette, a small cutter, the medical frigate and the station, all as black as space, each with their own unique hull pattern traced in gold on the surface. He couldn't see Cas, of course, just the inside of her hangar.
"de53yyx We tried eating some organic product," said Sirocco. "Uh- food, I mean. It produces an extraordinary feeling in the faxes mouth."
"frg08med NOT RECOMMENDED! These senses are alien to us. I worry about their effect."
"de52pnu Agreed, frg08med/Doc, but the fax derives energy from the organic material," said Panau. "It is more efficient than rebuilding it when it runs out of power."
"frg08med Agreed, reluctantly." Doc paused in thought for a moment. "Look, I am worried about this. The feedback from our facsimiles is not natural."
"de53yyx You need to try some chocolate, frg08med/Doc," said Sirocco.
Mike felt the amusement coming from the other ships. "ico76myk I see you enjoyed yourselves while I was in down-time. Did you ask our aircraft controlling friends," he added an image of a man and a woman in RAAF uniforms- "hu04Steve and hu11Jackie about those feelings of warmth and affection we each seem to have toward a specific ship?"
"de53yyx Yes. Jackie gave it a label called 'love' but couldn't define it further," said Sirocco.
"cv34max That can't be right!" said Max. "cu65/Cutter researched that from the transmissions from the planet!"
"cu65 Correct," added Cutter. "That emotion seems to always be expressed by a transfer of genetic material. We can't do that, so maybe it's impossible for us to- to-" She stopped, disappointment choking her thoughts.
"de53yyx Apparently that isn't a necessary requirement unless you wish to produce another human," said Sirocco. "They're built in the females, by the way, not at the hospital shipyards like we originally thought…"
Mike felt a private channel open and Cas whispered "Disconnect."
He disconnected from the Fleet network and waited in the sudden silence. Her blast doors closed the entrance to the hangar and a mass of service lines, power umbilicals and heavy lifting arms descended from the roof of the hangar and dangled above his dorsal surface like a metallic octopus. "Cas? What are you- Oh!" he exclaimed as she ran the tip of a lifting arm along his back. Before he could recover she draped the mass of tentacles over him. They tangled around his wings, probed into his engines, curled underneath and entered his interior through the open landing gear ports. As he recovered from the shock of her touch, he realised she had forced open his canopy and was tickling the inner surface of the cockpit. "Uh- do you want to exchange genetic material?" he asked as he gathered armfuls of the lines and held them tightly, their tips wriggling under his chin and feeling up into the open port of his nose-gear.
"That won't be necessary," whispered Cas.