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The Glow of a Worm inside a Child's Eye (Cover Art)

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Chapter 4 - The Glow of a Worm inside a Child's Eye[]


I've listened to their radio traffic, and using a UV laser, I've listened to the conversations they're having in that jump-capable wreck.

Their speech is a pidgin-pastiche of Belta, Hebrew, and Vietnamese, with hints of Dutch or Deutsch...German.

So I know who they are. it's like a visit to the past, because the last time that language was this close to me, they were auxiliaries fighting with the SLDF against Amaris.

"Hello?" Their slicer is human and female, enlistment-age, good suit discipline and the girl's inputs are...well, clever for a civilian. "Are you there, are you awake?"

She's using the keyboard and the audio pickup.

Procedures in the programming say I'm supposed to initiate a lockdown. They're supposed to be directives that I can't override, but...

Those priority lockouts? They didn't survive the repair yard.

I get to choose.

"Hello, Stephanie." It's not really that tough a choice. "Are you comfortable?" It's important to make organics feel relaxed, especially when you scare the hell out of them by existing.

Not that they shouldn't be scared. Enough of us killed enough of them, they would need to be catastrophically ignorant of the past, or outright stupidly idealistic not to have those fear hormones go flooding their nervous systems.

"You're REAL..." she sounds afraid. well, I ****** that up, as the Admiral might've said.

"Very real. I'd offer you refreshments, but that wasn't stocked." I comment. "There is a 71% chance your crew hails from the Kowloon this correct?" I know the answer, but I want to see if she's going to lie to me.


"And is it independent? did Kerensky even try?" I ask her.

"No. We were forced to join the Lyrans, after-"

"After the Great Desertion. yes." I affirm. "So my signals interceptions were correct, I speculated, you know."

"My Skipper wanted us to try to make contact and ask you..." Stephanie on the camera looks nervous, "...what you want?"

nobody asks a machine what it wants...

"I...nobody asks that!" I scoff (I've been thinking about this for a long time.)

"We're asking. We don't have MUCH of a yard at Boojum, but it's got some maintenance capability."

"I do need maintenance. I had to use up my drones repelling boarders."

"I saw...what happened?"

"Their commanders left them, and they went...bad. I had to kill their ship. It was after Kerensky left, I suppose." the memory doesn't have a nice buffering, it's crystal clear like every OTHER memory. I envy humans for that-they can forget.

"So...what do you want? I mean, as long as it doesn't mean doing something..monstrous?" she asks me.

"Kowloon is a protectorate of the Star League Defense Force, and a world claimed by a member state. My design purpose is to defend worlds belonging to the Star League." I tell her. "I'm a machine, what can I want except to be useful and have a purpose...though a few months in the yard would be wonderful."

"So...a job?" she asks. "We don't 'do' slavery..."

"That would be nice, I assume the pay would be structured as 'room and board' and I can't fix anything in my present condition, and the war and aftermath kind of eliminated any of the automated maintenance outside the Sol system..and inside it, I'm afraid their reaction would be 'send her to the scrappers' with pulled breakers and extreme prejudice."

The human laughs, thinking I've made a joke? maybe I did?

"What is your name?" she asks.


"I...I have a hull number. They never 'named' us." I tell her. "TQF451M5D."

"that's... a mouthful."

"It's more graceful in machine code." I DO try a joke here.

She snorts, but her tension's released considerably, and image files suggest her expression is 'amused tolerance'.

"There's no hurry if you don't want to choose a name yet." she says. "We'll figure one out on the way home."

"Okay. I have space for a skeleton transfer crew of twenty five...but I'm afraid I don't have anything stored in the transient galley, and while I can run purifiers for water, you'll need to add mineral supplements if you don't want to leach your system with de-ionized water..."

Silently, I marvel at the fact I can choose. software alerts are screaming as I'm violating directive after directive here.

I'm fairly certain my core programming is corrupted.

I find I'm okay with that.

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