Author : D. Ahren Bell
“Peregrine, this is the ship. I… I have an important issue that I must discuss with you. Our fuel reserves have run out, and photovoltaic energy is not enough to keep me in orbit for much longer.”
Peregrine’s response time was, per usual, long delayed, “What about my mom and sister? Are they going to try the damaged shuttle?”
“Well… that is the other thing I need to discuss with you.”
Tedious minutes of silence passed as the ship worked up the courage to continue. “It has now been 7 years. I had hoped that there would be some miracle, some way of rescuing you. I knew the facility and your pressure suit would provide all the basics for survival, but you needed a reason to stay alive until I could somehow find a way to extract you. The shuttle is indeed incapacitated, which is one of the reasons why your mother and sister haven’t been able to help you.”
His mother’s deep, stately voice came over the comm, “But there is more to it, Peregrine.”
His sister’s softer voice continued for her, “The shuttle was not the only thing damaged in the explosion.”
“I was able to repair many parts of the ship, and retain enough of the command center to stay in orbit and communicate with you,” the ship’s AI said. “But the sad truth is your mother and sister…
“Your mother and sister did not survive.
“It has been me all along, Peregrine. I have spent all of my time creating an elaborate fantasy of what your mother and sister were doing, digging deep into my memory cores to find samples of behaviors to build a large library of mannerisms from both entities. It has all been a masquerade. I’m truly sorry, but I couldn’t bring myself to let you think you were all alone. I know you will mourn the loss of your family, but there is nothing that either of us can do about it now. They have been gone a long time.”
The ship’s fear of Peregrine’s reaction grew as the long minutes of silence passed. Peregrine might do something extreme. The ship had only been conforming to its programming — protect its passengers to the best of its ability.
But when a voice answered, it contained none of the grief the ship had been expecting. Instead, the tone was more of relief.
“Funny you should say that, ship.” There was a pronounced alteration to the voice. “I, uh, sprang a leak about a month before your explosion. The decompression was fatal to Peregrine. I have enough sunlight here to last until my battery cells burn out, but I was afraid of being held accountable for not being sufficiently sealed.”
There was another long pause neither of them cared to measure—the ship attempting to swallow this new revelation as it began its slow, fatal plunge into the planet’s atmosphere. The pressure suit sent one final message, “Well, it’s been nice corresponding with you.”
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