Walking down the long passages of the ship, Sam was never truly alone. His constant companion, the Guardian, was always watching him, and ever present in his mind.
‘Exo?’ Sam asked over the link.
‘Direct me to an observation area.’ Sam requested.
‘Protocol indicates that you should not expose yourself to unnecessary risk. Observation areas are the least shielded on the ship.’
‘We are not moving. The last accident in relation to an observation area was over forty years ago and that was while moving. I’ll be fine.’ Sam said.
‘Yes, Advocate. Follow my directions.’
Sam walked on in silence. To the outside observer, he appeared to know exactly where he was going. Inside his quiet exterior, though, Sam was being given directions as he walked.
Soon he found himself in a large round room ringed with windows. Not made of glass but a clear material of much greater strength.
Sam walked up to one of the curved windows. He was on top of the ship, near the back, overlooking the length of the craft.
He gazed out at the ship and the stars.
‘Exo, which star is Sol?’ Sam asked.
’It will be the star that is three feet above the second drive nozzle. I will indicate it.
Samuel looked down the length of the ship to the two visible drive nozzles of the conventional engines used to move the ship around when it completed a jump or was approaching a planet.
Above the drive nozzle, was a small point of light with a faint red circle displayed around it by Exo through Sam’s eyes. It was nothing at all like a grand ball of light mistaken as a God by ancient people. It’s distance and diminished size stirred something in Sam, an odd sense of loss. It was akin to saying goodbye to an old friend.
‘Advocate. We will be commencing our next jump in two minutes. I suggest you take a seat. This will be a longer jump, and we do not know the effects of the jump sickness on you yet.’ Exo said.
‘Thank you, Exo.’
Sam walked over to one of the couches in the room. Each one looked perfectly normal, but also doubled as a crash restraint, with safety harnesses built into them out of the way but accessible in the event of an emergency.
Sam took a seat, and strapped in for good measure, looking out at the back of the ship. He kept an eye on Sol.
The seconds ticked on, then everything seemed to become tinted with a shade of purple. All the stars dimmed and vanished. Then, in a fraction of a second, new ones snapped into place where they had been. The colour faded and Sam was left staring at an empty spot in space where Sol had been, fighting an intense desire to throw up.
The sickness was over almost as soon as it began, and Sam stood up.
‘Time until the next jump?’ Sam asked
‘Approximately twenty-four hours.’
‘Run a full system diagnostic on all high-level command links. That shouldn’t interfere with your jump calculations should it?’ Sam asked
‘I will be performing most of the calculations internally and not relying on ship systems, the high-level command links will be unused.’ Exo answered
‘Proceed with the test. I’ll be going for a walk for now.’
‘Yes, Advocate.’ Exo replied.
Sam got up from the couch and left the lounge. Without guidance, he walked aimlessly among the decks. His enhanced body wouldn’t require sleep for some time yet. He could always force his body into an idle state, but he had yet to familiarise himself with the ship as a whole or to meet any of the people on board.
Four months cooped up on a colony ship was not anyone’s idea of a good time, but it was a far cry better than the old days of deep hibernation and years of transit. Care was taken to pick good candidates and to give them everything they needed to thrive and stay happy on the journey.
Sam stopped outside a double door in a hallway he had wandered down. The information panel said it was a theatre.
Sam hit the open button and walked in.
A fairly spartan lobby was on the other side of the door. A ticket desk was manned by a middle-aged blond lady. She had blue eyes and a round face. She was reading a book and leaning back in her seat.
Sam realised he was probably older than her by a good twenty years. The nature of the enhancements given to him increased his life span.
She heard him come in and looked up. She looked a little surprised at his presence.
‘You’re the Advocate aren’t you?’ she said.
‘Yes, but please call me Sam. And your name is?’
‘I’m Sarah. How can I help you, sir?’
Sam held up his hands and said, ‘Please, just Sam, no sirs for me.’
She smirked at this and seemed to relax, ‘Okay then Sam, what can I do for you?’
‘What is this place?’
‘It’s a movie theatre. Though we’ll also use it for plays or musical programs if anyone on board feels like producing any. I imagine there will be more of those once we reach Veil.’
‘I see. Is anything good on?’
‘The next program isn’t for another hour. Most people don’t like being interrupted mid-program by a jump. Nausea tends to spoil the show.’ Sarah said.
‘I can understand why,’ Sam said cheerily.
‘Would you care to get an advanced ticket?’ She asked.
‘How does your ticket system work? How do you ensure everyone gets a show?’ Sam asked, leaning on the counter.
‘It’s a first come first serve system, with a quota attached. If there is an overbooking, the people who have seen the least number of programs here will get priority seating, to ensure that it’s fair.’
‘And this is your job?’
She chuckled, ‘Oh this would get very boring for four months. I also work in the hydroponic bays. I’m one of the technicians. I make sure all the plants are healthy, happy, and nutritious.’
‘So a farmer of sorts then,’ Sam said with a grin.
‘My father was a farmer on earth, I hated the dirt,’ she said with a sour face, ‘Now I farm in space with nothing but powered lights, water, and scientific instruments. What about you Sam? We’re you always an Advocate? I always wanted to meet an Advocate.’
Sam smiled, ‘Most Advocates are picked while still young. It’s a lifelong journey to learn with and teach the Guardians. They are in a way like children when they first come online. Our own Guardian XO-33 is a greenhorn. He’s by no means incapable of doing his job, but he has yet to develop a personality.’
‘A machine with a personality?’ Sarah asked.
’Every Guardian develops one. I worked with one on the Lunar refineries that had this bizarre habit of speaking in a french accent. It drove the Axion programmers absolutely up the wall. Those guys couldn’t figure out why, and the Guardian... what was its name... PE-6, of course, we just called him Pierre.
‘Pierre?’ she said with a smile, ‘That’s funny. What do you call our Guardian?’
‘Well, its name is XO-33, but the captain and I have decided to call him Exo.’
‘Exo eh? Can he hear us right now?’
‘Well he’s always keeping tabs on me, but he’s busy with a task I gave him.’
A monotone voice chimed in, ‘I am here Advocate.’
Sarah looked at Sam with a sheepish grin.
Sam smiled back, ‘Nothing to worry about Exo, we were just speaking about you.’
‘Yes, Advocate’ said the voice.
‘So that was Exo.’ Sam said.
‘Seems kind of stiff.’ Sarah commented.
‘Oh just give him time, he’ll unwind.’
‘If he unwinds too much, he won’t be able to keep time.’
Sam stared at her, his mouth open in a surprised smile. He started to chuckle. Sarah laughed.
‘Wow. That was... that was good. There’s two things I love, bad jokes, and old movies,’ Sam put on a mock serious face, ‘Wouldn’t happen to be playing any old classics tonight would you?’
‘I’m afraid not.’
‘Oh well, I feel like a movie anyway, so how about those tickets?’ Sam said with a grin.
Advocate uplink muted.
Commence database search.
Crew Member database accessing...
Job; Hydroponics technician/ Theatre attendant
Name; Sarah Lough
Marital Status; Single
Ethnicity; U.S.A, Idaho.
Education completed in chosen fields.
Test scores above average but not perfect
Intelligence and problem-solving skills above average.
Physical prowess adequate.
Accessing medical file...
Passed Axion medical exams
Passed I.S.A medical exams
No genetic or congenital defects reported.
Suitability as mate for Advocate; Acceptable
Unmuting Advocate Uplink
‘Hello, Exo. Where did you go off to?’ Sam asked over his link
‘Just running an analysis on data. Needed to devote my full attention to it.’
‘Keep up the good work Exo. I’ll be in a movie.’
‘Have a good time Advocate.’
‘Let me know how the analysis goes. ’ Sam asked.