Den Whitton - 2003
The waning moon set and complete darkness covered the battle field. A shadow slipped under the railings of the fence and vanished.
Cas examined the dismembered bodies in the yard and was relieved to find no humans. They were all from the Pak-Tuy, and had taken the force of the rocket attack so she and the human Corporal could escape. She began collecting their guns for the rebels and cast around for somewhere to cache them. There was a haystack in the stables attached to the yard. Yes, that would be good enough, she thought.
After the first armful of weapons were safe in the hay, she realized it was only a matter of time before a sniper with a night scope saw her. Panau, can you land a spare fax for me? she asked.
What's wrong with that one? said the destroyer. Is it damaged?
Not yet, said Cas. But you never know.
New fax is on the way, he said. I'll leave it with Doc at the medevac point.
"You're the science corvette called Cas," said a voice in the dark. "Are you talking to the other ships?"
Cas spun, flicked off the safety of the rifle in her hand and aimed it at the unseen intruder. She relaxed when she recognized a Pak-Tuy male sitting with his back to the wall. "I thought they'd killed all of you," she said as she made the rifle safe and hid it with the others.
"No, just most of me," he said. "All of me out there," he added with a nod at the door, "and most of this one in here." He indicated the stumps of his legs with a nod as Cas knelt and pressed a hand against his chest.
"That's minor damage for a nanite entity," she said as she scanned his life signs. "Or it would be, normally. Your energy levels are incredibly low. How do you keep functioning?"
"I'm keeping the brain structure alive at the expense of the other systems. My hands and legs no longer work, and soon the arms and internals will fail."
"Why bother?" Cas realized the question sounded callous so she added, "I mean, you're a minor independent node of the Pak-Tuy. Uh- I mean-"
"I know what you mean," he said. "It's so I can remember what happened here, and when I merge I'll know what happened and I can react accordingly."
"Your use of the personal pronoun is confusing," muttered Cas as she stood. "And I'm afraid your life signs will fail before you can do that… merge… thing. Wait here." She sneaked outside and gathered up more weapons and hid them in hay stack. After a few more trips into the night she had a sizable arsenal hidden in the horse feed, then she closed and locked the door. The Pak-Tuy frowned up at her. "It's so the light wont be seen outside," she explained as she removed her backpack.
She placed a short cylinder which began to give off a soft white light on the ground. A quick sweep of her hand cleared the loose straw from an area, then she placed a tiny gas stove in the middle. It made a soft 'pop' and lit with a small blue flame.
The Pak-Tuy watched as the ship's facsimile placed a can on the fire. "What are you doing?"
"Heating some food." Cas looked at the lid. "Beans, to be exact."
"They tastes better that way."
"You're going to eat them?" A look of disgust crossed the Pak-Tuy's face. "That's so disgustingly organic!" He shook his head. "Not to mention highly inefficient. You burn almost as much energy as you recover."
"I know! I have a pair of reactors that give me all the energy I need, but this facsimile doesn't. It needs to convert organic matter into energy to keep functioning." The nanite's dislike of organic things annoyed her.
"There are better ways of obtaining-" began the Pak-Tuy, but Cas cut him off.
"What would you suggest?" she snapped. "Solar, like you use?" Cas pointed at the window. "I don't know if you've noticed the lack of sunlight we seem to be having? What with it being, you know, night and everything."
The Pak-Tuy glared at her. "Don't treat me like a-!" He froze for a moment, then sagged where he sat. Cas grabbed his shoulders to stop him from falling over. "Nothing. It doesn't matter. You've heard what they call me?" he asked suddenly.
"The biologics. They call me 'The Toys,' like I'm just a device for children."
"It's just that they don't know you," said Cas softly. "I've met a few of you indies and feel like we got on rather well."
"I know. I have their memories from when they re-entered the Pak-Tuy."
"But it's hard being friends with someone whole never looks the same between visits."
The Pak-Tuy looked surprised. "Is it? I never considered that."
Cas nodded. "Why do you think each Ship builds the same facsimiles each time?"
"I wondered about that." The Pak-Tuy looked thoughtful for a moment. "This needs to get back. It's too important to lose. Can you tell the next copy you see? I'm not going to last that long."
"Of course I-" began Cas, then she frowned at the Pak-Tuy." What do you mean by 'Copy'?"
"You call them indies. They're exact copies of the humans who used to live on my world."
"Exact? How exact?"
Now the man frowned at Cas. "Exact. I don't know how to rephrase that. Exact. Exact down to a cellular level."
"Digestive tract and everything?"
"Yes! The whole organic processing… thing… What are you…?" He stared at the can of beans Cas held in front of his face. "No, I can't-" He flinched and turned his head away as she popped the lid from the can.
"I bet you even has a sense of taste," she said happily. "You'll enjoy that. I certainly did the first time I tried food."
"Ugh! It's full of warm and wet things!"
"This food will give you energy to survive until morning.," said Cas as she bent his fingers into shape so he could hold the can. "If your internal processing is as efficient as I suspect, then it will be more than enough. You want to get this information back to Pak-Tuy-" She tapped him on the forehead, "-then you'll eat." She watched as he shuddered and lifted the can to take a small mouthful. "They think we're machines," said Cas, trying to take the Pak-Tuy's mind off the food.
He swallowed and asked "Who?"
"The biolgics," said Cas. "They think we Ships are the same as their ships. It's pretty creepy seeing a dead machine doing the same things as a real person."
The Pak-Tuy nodded as he chewed and swallowed another mouthful of beans. He tipped the last of the beans into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "You know, that might be the problem the humans have with me. To them I'm not a living entity," he said at last as he stare into the empty can. "Would they feel better if I shared heated organic matter with them?"
"I'm sure it would," said Cas. "Would you cope with a regular intake of food?"
"If it all tasted as good as this, then I would easily cope." He looked at his damaged legs. "Well, my energy requirements are met, but repairs will be difficult. I don't have enough active nanites to rebuild the lost systems. It would be a simple matter if I reactivated the recycle sequence, but…"
"But don't," said Cas.
"No. I know what one free nanite can do. I don't want to do that to other worlds."
"Your associates are aware of your problem and they've given Mike two kilos of active nanobots. He'll be here in 10 minutes."
Cas heated another tin of beans and sat beside the Pak-Tuy to eat them. He sat silently and watched her eat each mouthful. "I really need all of this," she said at last. He nodded. "The sun will be up in a few hours. You'll have all the energy you need."
"I know," he said with another nod. "But it's not beans."
Cas looked into her nearly empty tin and felt sorry for the Pak-Tuy. She gave him the tin and stood to pack away her stove. "Here, finish mine."
He froze and stared at her in confusion. "But- But you said-"
"She's good at that," said a voice at the window. They looked up and saw a shadow against the black sky. There was a brief scuffling noise and a black-clad figure climbed through the hole. He was clad from neck to toe in the same black uniform as Cas. Only the yellow markings were different.
"You're the coordinator!" said the Pak-Tuy.
"Only when I'm coordinating," said Mike. "Right now I'm just the interceptor." He shrugged off his backpack and pulled out a sealed container. "Your associates say you have to get these inside you," he said. "So we'll open your abdomen and-"
"What?" yelped the Pak-Tuy. "That would- That would hurt!" He looked uncertain for a moment. "Pain is undesirable."
Mike and Cas squatted in front of the Pak-Tuy. "If you're an exact copy of a human," said Mike, "Then you have two orifices into which you can insert this. It's up to you to decide which to use."
The Pak-Tuy watched Cas open the container and tip some nanites into an empty bean tin. She handed it to him. He looked at the grey slurry for a moment, then drank it down. "Ugh!" he said with a scowl and held out the tin.
"What's wrong?" asked Cas as she poured more nanite slurry into the can.
"I taste like shit!" said the Pak-Tuy.