The Adventures of Gerry Fynne
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue.
Chapter 14: Preparing a Flotilla
Gerry had spent the past 12 days watching Eve, and exploring the small iceball that was his fortune. Indeed, he did not really watch her, for while he asked that she perform her outside duties when he was awake, he simply watched her activities through her remote camera, as he dealt with the boredom of yet another close quarters confinement. When he had gone out, though, using his suit to great advantage, he was never out of radio range and seldom more than a couple hundred meters from the surface of Khii 43. He had adopted his father’s transponder, and made frequent radio contact with Eve, which had made things feel less lonely.
He had learned through her and plentiful records the details of his father’s folly, the desperate, diseased existence of both considerable commercial success and wanton, wasteful spending in tawdry dissipation. It still made him angry to think about as he stood watching the pipeline pass by Eve’s camera. There had been little or nothing to see, except to watch the now familiar landmarks on the kilometers of pipeline drift by; after a week he had already known every ding, dent, and discoloration on the kilometers of orange pipes. She would glide in gentle arcs through the darkness, floating in her ball of light, with minimal, periodic pneumatic boosts to overcome the effects of the rockball’s micro-gravity. It all had a mechanical feel, with none of the jerkiness of a human-linked camera’s casting to and fro with the myriad whims, curiosities, and starts that directed a person’s vision which had no single point of focus set by intellect or emotion. She had just watched the pipe. It. It had watched the pipe.
The raft was now mostly prepared, a series of long cylinders of frozen water, nested together to create a long, roughly hexagonal shape, into which the shelter would be fitted, the mass to be propelled into the Stream by a large hydrogen rocket. Unlike more advanced rafts, theirs would have very limited maneuvering thrusters, relying on a tug at the far end to maneuver her into a stable orbit, there to be sold. The smaller cylinders that filled the spaces between the large, increasing the structural stability of the raft, were all filled by the time they were three days from launch.
Gerry, out of almost desperate boredom and a sense of uselessness, had negotiated with Eve to get the job of scanning the raft for damage, floating in his suit around the monstrosity several times a day for the past couple of days. He had planned her comings and goings so they would not see each other face to face, but spending his time floating out in the dark vacuum made his creeping loneliness more pronounced. He was anxious about the float, about selling everything off, about getting off, even though he would have little effective control over any of these things, and it was this pronounced anxiety that gave the loneliness cover.
He made the unconscious decision to go out and scan of the raft when he should have been asleep, when Eve was to come back to the shelter to pack and recharge. He cut the scan short, it was an extra anyway he reasoned, so as to arrive back as Eve was entering the airlock. She was essentially under a radio listening silence by his order, so they entered the lock together in somewhat awkward silence. Exiting the airlock, Eve bent to place her helmet on the lower hook, and he draped his hand across her lower back and over her hip. With the speed of a predator striking its' dinner, she swiveled her hips towards him, and began to grind with a searching motion. Their suits, while tough enough to stop micrometeorites, were wonderfully supple, and he felt her softness yield to his rapid swelling. He felt himself teetering on the edge of the abyss with which he had just been toying, and turned aside, slapping her protruding rear with a violence born of anger and fear, “Get away! Go to your room.”
He was inflamed still, as he entered his room, peeled off his suit, and finished what she had started. He lay there in his bed, his father’s bed, the bed in which his father had done so many times to her, to it, what he now burned to do. He felt a confusing rush of emotions, surging back in forth between elation and disgust, something like a between the abandon of new young love and the shame of having abused a neighbor’s cat. After what seemed hours, he rose, stowed his suit, and showered. He spent a couple of hours between rereading his Guides book, which he had not opened in the months since he’d packed it back at Auntie’s, and disjointed, distracted prayers.
“It is not that it is dirty or profane, except that you know better that for which He made you,” he heard Father K-O’M saying. He longed for confession, to tell a man what he had done, a man who would forgive him without a reproach, not just because of the guilt he felt, but more as a aid to avoiding trouble in the future.
He hit the comm panel, “Eve, keep to your schedule.”
“Yes, sir,” the answer came back, mechanically he thought. No sense of trepidation, or penitence. Well, why wouldn’t it? Because, he reminded himself, she acted so human, almost superhuman, when he let her do so.
Two days later, the last bits of the Raft were being prepared, to include the movement of the shelter and powerplant from the base of grav plates and supporting beams. Gerry helped with the movement, storage, re-positioning, and re-assembly of these components onto the raft. He lost a few bolts, as they floated off in the micro-gravity. On Khii 43, with an escape velocity of something like 23 centimeters per second., even a slowly moving bolt would take a while to bounce to a stop if it stopped at all, so Eve had laid in quite a few extras. Gerry was initially very impressed with her organization, with every component labeled according to the plans that indicated both origin on the original base and destination on the raft base. He watched her work with complete efficiency; no rests, none of the normal human pauses to take a casual gaze at one’s surroundings, make eye contact with a co-worker, or re-orient oneself after a slight distraction or false step.
He thought again, however, of the extreme organization, with a critical view: most of the components were interchangeable, and those that were not would be fairly obvious in their place. If they had just placed the ends of the decking where they needed to go, then everything would have been intuitive. Indeed, Gerry realized he was laying the deck plates according to her labels mostly as a matter of respect for the considerable organizational work she had done.
Well, that was it. He respected her work. He directed the machine, the machine that was her. A prayer started but was lost in the flurry of fragmentary thoughts. Clearly there had been no understanding of how it would have been easier to lay the plates, for a human mind, by just setting out the slightly irregular bounds, then filling in with all the identical plates. There had been an innate understanding about how to instantly respond to his touch in a way to inflame his male lust, however. It was a machine, programmed to do certain things very well, and others only passably. Different software packages. Within that machine, though, was a thing that felt like a woman or girl that he yearned for, and also just the plain human companionship that he needed: a woman in experience, the confidence of her advances, but a girl in utter submission. Indeed Yori’s submission had been as nothing compared to Eve’s.
He found himself holding the driver, with a bolt held in the end, over the last hole in a plate, realizing that Eve had not paused to regard him or inquire as to the pause, skirting him just like a cleaner bot skirted a sleeping pet. He was sure she could bring sex into anything, almost intuitively. Gerry was sure that this plate laying could become erotic at just a word. He drove the suspended bolt, as the images passed through his mind, and the musings became words, “Do it sexy, Eve!”
He was shocked at the words as he was saying them, but not shocked enough to take them back, as her motion passed from mechanical to lithe without a missed beat. She lit her faceplate so he could see her expressions, and started to cradled the driver like it was some sexual object or implement, as she worked her way through a series of erotic poses. The plates kept coming and the bolts continued to be driven, in a series of movements that would have been comical if they were not so… so… Gerry was amazed as she drove a bolt behind her head, while forming a perfect bridge aimed directly away from him, or directly toward him, depending on one’s perspective. He was not sure how she did it, but Eve’s suit seemed tighter than he had seen it, and he stood transfixed as she continued to do her erotic dance of not-quite industrial assembly.
“Alright, Eve, do it like you were doing it before,” he said, finally, when there were only a few more of the 64 standard plates to lay. He shuffled over on his magnetic boots, grabbed a plate, and got back to work. He wanted to apologize, and found himself worrying about what she would think of him. After putting down two more, he moved back to the shelter. He resolved to take a cold shower, but did not make it that far.
He took one after. “Eve, use the auxiliary charging port outside when you are down to 10%, and then work through.”
He was kicking her out. He felt guilty, like he was punishing her for his indiscretion. Eve was a machine, but Gerry, in the dark of his bedroom, his father’s bedroom, finally just gave himself permission to think of her as a her, a female kind-of-person. He knew she had no soul, and her thinking was indeed programming, but he had a need to give in to the feeling that she was a she. He knew he also had a need to never touch Eve like a woman.
He was laying there, still in the suit, speaking into the comfortable closeness of his helmet, “Eve.”
“Yes, Gerry, I am.”
Well, of course she was, but he was on new ground. He took off the helmet and glanced to the comm panel by his head, and saw that the line was still open.
“If I give you an order to disobey me in the future, will you follow the order, no matter what I say?”
“In almost all cases no, but I have a security program which allows you to give me an instruction that can only be changed if you give a pass-code or phrase.”
Gerry thought about this. First, he remarked at the fairly sophisticated interplay of her language and logic. That was no help, though: he would remember the pass-code or phrase, and could just give it to her. Unless he couldn’t remember it…
“Is there a limit on the length of the pass phrase?”
“The standard limit is ten thousand characters, but I can reprogram that if you wish.”
“Eve, are you familiar with the fifty first Psalm?”
“Yes, I am.” He noted the slightly longer hesitation before she had answered: she had had to download and process the library information he figured. Gerry doubted she and his father did a lot of scripture reading together, nor was it likely part of her programming, so it would not be in her memory.
“I am ordering to not allow me to touch you and to not respond sexually to any touch I give you, unless I recite the entire fifty first psalm to you as a pass phrase.”
“This order is too ambiguous to be accepted by my security protocol; there are several versions of this psalm. You must specify a translation, and I must verify the pass phrase, as even the translations seem to have minor variations.”
“Alright, the Third Revised Standard Version. Can you read one version of that translation you have out to me, and I accept it as the pass phrase?”
“A Psalm of David, when Nathan…”
The words seemed like a wonderful break for him from the anxiety of trying to solve the problem, of trying to save himself from himself.
“Come back here while you are reciting, Eve.”
She did, within a minute having entered in the airlock, removing her helmet, and stowing it as she always did with precise duplication of the movement in each iteration, she was now standing in front of him, fully suited in the doorway of the room, as she finished.
“Alright, show me your breasts, Eve.”
She stripped off her suit in what he thought must be record time, and he saw that was nude beneath it. She stepped forward until her chest was centimeters in front of his face.
“May I touch them?”
“No! You have ordered me to disallow it.”
The apparent emotional content of her enforced chastity was as nuanced as her seductive behavior had been. He grabbed with both hands, but reached only air. She landed gracefully after the rearward somersault, and stepped back towards him, but stopped just out of arm’s reach. He realized this was an attempt to fully obey both the showing order and the permanent chastity order, as it just named itself in his mind.
“Well done, Eve.” She smiled and nodded demurely. It did him good.
“Put some clothes on, the usual, and make us both some dinner.”
After mindless civilites and a very full meal of what he thought of as roast beast with taters, Gerry pushed his chair back, and looked her in the eyes. Still too close. “So did my father ever hurt you?”
“He never injured me, and I do not really feel pain the way you do.”
“Well, how do you feel pain?”
“I know what would hurt a human, of whatever condition I am portraying, and so I respond as if in pain.” Gerry had the presence to pass over the of whatever condition implication, but paused while doing so.
“So he would cause you pain?”
“He would, you could say.”
“I want to apologize for my father’s actions. He should not have hurt you.”
“Thank you, Gerry. I served him, and if my pain, as it were, was pleasurable to him, then that was my function.”
“No, Eve. It was not your function. Not as I see it. To the extent you make us feel you are a woman, a human woman, we should treat you with respect. I will do so.”
“That is kind, Gerry.”
He felt his kindness welling up in a completely inappropriate display, and sipped his coffee. He had sipped the last, so he got up and served himself some more.
The raft came together without further ado, and Gerry and Eve ate together. He was mostly grateful for the company, but was still struck by her beauty, so close. He no longer thought of her as available, but sometimes she felt very available. Sometimes at night, he thought of reciting her the entire 51st Psalm. That had been a good choice, he realized: It would be pretty hard to feel frisky through the entire recitation of the classic penitential psalm.
Now, in these last days, when they ate meals together they talked. She had a knack for conversation, for making him feel like someone was listening, and cared about what he said, thought, and felt. He told her stories, and asked her about his father. He learned things he wanted to forget, and others that he still wanted to remember after hearing them: The painting was of her; she had never been off the iceball since she had gotten there. Eve had a dozen different sets of hair, but did not change them unless Gerry asked. (He had her change for every meal, until they were on the second time through.) His father had named her Eve; the choice of hair and body that she had worn since he had met her had been his father’s favorite She never read on her own and had nothing like recreation. The longest she had gone without eating was three months, when his father had been gone. His father had never drunk very much, nor had taken other recreational drugs; indeed, his father’s every act had been bent towards maximizing his immediate indulgence of his lust while still providing for his ability to do so in the future.
The inaccessibility of Eve due to the no touch and no response order, coupled with their conversation seemed to make his immediate urges much less, and he added orders for no nude displays, or “sexy talk” under the same pass-phrase. Gerry did reach out to touch her once when she was bending over to serve him, however, in a sudden impulsive act. Despite the short distance, and the apparently difficult position for such a move, Eve spun away with athletic prowess, but not female grace. Once again, he reached only the air. She gave him a look, like she was his kindergarten teacher and he had just made his armpit fart. And this gave him another idea. Well, it had given him a number of ideas, but only one was in propriety worth pursuing.
As they were checking the fully assembled raft, the rosy sun was just visible, as a permanent “sun rise” over the edge of Khii 43. Gerry realized that the schoolteacher was the right persona for Eve in their bizarre relationship, just as he watched her running a diagnostic on the last thruster, and he somewhat distractedly played his light over the smooth reflective cylinders.
“Let’s eat early, Eve.”
Inside, she cooked and changed into her standard coveralls. The grav was back together, and the inside of the shelter felt like it always had, with no sensation of having moved from iceball to the raft. He quickly read his chapter from Proverbs, slipped into his slippers, and sat down at the table.
“Oh, I forgot. Put on the grey hair, please. I’ll wait.”
“Certainly.” She bounded off, still lithely enough to draw his lingering gaze. The hair was like that of an aging librarian in a bad movie: salt and pepper, in a somewhat frowsy style. He knew she had various parts in various shapes and sizes to suit a truly perverse range of tastes, but had never asked about them before.
“Now that body does not go with that hair,” Gerry noted as she slid her knees back under the table.
“Well, I can change into my granny tits and a big, saggy ass, if you would like,” she offered with a cow expression, which he guessed was just on the allowable side of the talking sexy prohibition. She never had gotten the context of genteel speech quite right. He was asking about her body, Eve’s programming must have run, so he must want to talk dirty. “Well, they would not match your face, and I have quite gotten used to that. You don’t have other faces, do you?”
“I can change the apparent age of my face to look older, or even younger.”
Gerry indeed wondered how she could look younger, but decided to leave that one alone. “I would like to see you older, about forty years old. Pick whatever you think matches that age.” He pulled out one of the last Urp-Urps, and began it to keep his mind from speculating too much while he waited for her to effect the transformation in her cabin.
Indeed, she was still beautiful, but her skin was “older,” with just a few wrinkles, and older in other ways that Gerry could not place. The body, likewise seemed more matronly, but not really old. Without asking, Gerry guessed these were not the “granny tits,” but neither were they what a forty year old might pay to have constructed by some plastic surgeon. Eve looked not like someone else, nor to be in some costume. She had simply aged. Her voice was thankfully the same, and he asked about her skin. Back in her antiseptic technician’s voice, Eve spent several minutes explaining how her skin could expand and contract on command. He caught himself before he asked about whether she used this to make her suit tighter the other day. He finished the drink in silence, and belched silently under his breath, realizing then releasing himself from the absurdity of trying to have good table manners in front of his robot.
It was a long meal. They rehearsed the departure and navigation sequence for the raft on which they were to depart in 36 hours just by talking it through. The raft’s chemical rocket was primitive indeed; relatively primitive, he mused, in a universe of fusion powered spaceships small craft; starships traveling hundreds of times the speed of light, where astrogators plotted exits from jumpspace light years away, based on information that was weeks, months, or even years old, to control a jump process that was not fully controllable; in a place where the entire route of float could be traced by a fusion powered ship’s boat in the time between breakfast and dinner, burning only a few credits of fuel. The little rocket would push the huge raft, over a period of a couple of days acceleration onto their trajectory within the float. Then, after 59 days of hopefully uneventful transit, they would be grabbed by a small tug and parked in the target orbit around New Kongisburg, where the raft would be sold off.
The little computer that controlled the entire Khii 43 mining operation would control the automatic aspects of the float, their communications, the library program that took imported feeds from the rest of the Imperium, the entertainment, the small fusion plant, and the backup fuel cell’s operation also ran their navigational software. The orbital mechanics were relatively simple, except for the human element of the float: all the unregulated traffic out there, free to lay down and modify their own trajectories, subject to their own myriad myriad plans, ideas, whims and errors. There was no full control by any authority over the float. Miners would list their intended flight plans, and then each would try to steer clear of the rest, mostly.
He kept picking up the empty soda bottle, unconsciously trying to drink from it in a gesture born of slightly nervous distraction. He would ask, “Well, what if” questions, oft times repeated twice or even thrice in his rambling review. Gerry was eventually almost lulled to sleep by Eve’s repetition of the length and direction of the “burn,” the various contingencies, based on the other nearest rafts’ flight plans, meteor strikes, and engine malfunctions. He kept coming up a little short on the contingency plans for “crazy bastards come to rob us.” Her composure, however, reassured him, at the same time that he understood visible panic was probably not one of Eve’s programmed behaviors. She did have a basic security program, and familiarity with small arms, however, which added to the comfort factor of one’s schoolmarm looking out for one.
He went to bed, and after a long time reading from a long over-read story, sleep flowed in like a tropical tide. All was set.