Chapter 12: A Bit of Quiet
Brie curled her knees in close as she sat under the stars, staring out at the strange constellations, which formed strange shapes of spiraling triangles (or zigzags), and the tie-died nebulas that surrounded them. She had hoped to be able to make out some of the ones she knew from home, but in a ship flying through space, such a prospect remained impossible, so she named a few (calling one tinsel because it reminded her of a Christmas tree), despite what their real names might have been. They flew at normal speed, allowing Brie the opportunity to admire the scenery, and solitude. A chill attacked her shoulders. Shivering, she refused to leave Solaris’ observation deck.
A part of Brie felt thrilled to be on the ship and exploring new worlds, though the pang of leaving home still gnawed at her. She wished she could have said good-bye to her mother and sister. How they must be so worried about me, she thought. Brie shivered again.
“My sensors indicate that you are cold,” came Solaris’s voice from the speaker above Brie.
“It’s not that bad,” replied Brie. “Arizona is a little warmer.”
“I have increased the temperature by three degrees,” said Solaris. “Does that help?”
“Much,” answered Brie. She relaxed and stretched her legs. “I thought you were navigating tonight.”
“Tom is flying,” said Solaris. “Though that twit will probably force us to crash into a passing asteroid.”
Brie chuckled. “But I thought you flew yourself.”
“Normally I do,” said Solaris, “but someone has to give me a flight path. However, there are times when it is easier for there to be a pilot. Even a computer needs a break. I can’t work all day, sweetheart.”
“Sweetheart? Where’d you hear that term?”
“When I transported you from your planet, I tapped into the World Wide Web and downloaded what information I could in the short time window I had open.”
“Did you do the same from Tom’s time?”
“His time has something more advanced, and by then, my power stores were near depletion. Time travel, and travel across the universe, takes a lot of power.”
Brie looked back out at the passing stars. She noticed what looked like a pink and gold sun. Beautiful.
“You miss your home?”
Holding back a tear, Brie swallowed in an effort to keep her emotions out of her voice. “Yes. I never got a chance to say good-bye.”
“Tell me about your home,” said Solaris.
If the ship had a body, Brie would have sworn she sat beside her. “It’s warm, in the middle of a desert, but Phoenix is a big city, too. I have a mother and a little sister.”
“He died. He was supposed to be coming home the next week, but a suicide bomber decided to walk into the place where he was stationed. Four were killed that day and my father was one of them.”
Brie choked back a few tears. Her birthday was the next week and he had been expected home in time. Her parents had planned to make it a big surprise, but death had other plans.
“That was six years ago.”
“I am sorry,” said Solaris; sympathy came through her voice, even though she was a machine.
“So am I,” mumbled Brie.
When the news hit her about her father’s death, she felt numb. A week later, the full impact crushed her. Soon the bills piled up and then the recession hit. Her mother was one of the first people let go when the company she worked for was forced to downsize to cut costs, though they soon went under and shut their doors. Unable to find reliable employment, her mother declared bankruptcy, and they moved into government housing (half a block filled with tightfitting; deteriorating buildings; concrete where grass should have been; broken downspouts; overflowing dumpsters that reeked of fecal matter and rotted food; moldy, abandoned furniture; and graffiti), or what Brie called a fleabag place full of roaches and filth. Forced to wear other people’s castoffs from the Salvation Army, or local thrift store, Brie was the target of Jenny’s torment.
Her mother later found employment as a part-time waitress at a local bar. Brie wished her mother didn’t have to work there, since she always came home smelling like liquor and cigarettes. “One day, Brie, things will improve,” her mother had told her. Brie wondered when that day would come.
“You miss them?” asked Solaris.
“Yes,” replied Brie.
“When you return home, what would you like to do?”
“I don’t know. I never really gave it much thought. I once thought that I would write a book.”
“Then you should do that,” said Solaris, taking a genuine interest in Brie’s desires.
“I am only 16,” said Brie, “What could I possibly write about?”
“You are also on a ship, in the middle of space, where you battled man-eating plants and saved a young girl from being sacrificed to fictitious gods. I would say that you have a lot to write about.”
“I wish my friends felt that way,” mumbled Brie.
“You have one that does,” said Solaris.
Confused, Brie looked up. “Who?”
It had never occurred to Brie that she could befriend a computer, but Solaris acted so human sometimes that she realized she could.
“Would you like to see a bit of home?”
The glass in the observation room fogged up as a starry sky filled it. It looked just like the sky from the Arizona backcountry. Brie recognized the constellation of Orion and the Big Dipper. Some others she recognized the shapes of, but could not name. A shooting star streaked across the holographic sky.
“Thank you, Solaris. This is the best gift you could have given me.”
“I like your sky,” said Solaris. “Maybe I will stand under it someday.”
Though unsure of how a computer on a ship would ever stand beneath the stars, Brie decided not to question it. “Perhaps you will.”