03 Oct 41%
Tia smoothly guided her whisper-quiet bike behind the abandoned farmhouse, where we promptly dismounted, and tensely looked at each other. Tia pointed at the gun case, without speaking a word. I took a que and opened it quietly. She took her Tavor, slung it over her shoulder and got it in some kind of a battle-ready position in one smooth motion. The sun was in the early stages of getting ready to set down, and everything was illuminated by the warm light that photographers call “the golden hour”. Tia looked dashing, bearing an assault rifle, her face – a calm but determined mask of a professional warrior. Now I finally could believe she really was who she said she was. I could not fake looking like that with a gun. But I didn’t care much about looks, so I took my sniper rifle and sent a round into the chamber with a satisfying click-clack.
This was possibly the weakest point of my entire plan. I was counting on the Horsemen not keeping an eye on the artifact due to the fact that Theo was dead, and they were a bit short on people, to put it mildly. If my calculations were correct, they would not have enough time to get close enough to the east coast in order to launch the missiles before I get there, but raising the alarm would make my mission almost impossible. And unlike a movie franchise of a similar name, I wasn’t guaranteed a happy ending. We could not realistically avoid detection if anyone was still watching. We just had to go in fast and fully alert, in case it was still being protected in some way, and hope for the best. Indeed, we could only hope not to alert the terrorists about us coming to stop them.
We crossed the field, guns at the ready, and reached the forest. The artifact was still there. I let Tia touch it and appreciate the whole alien weirdness of it, while I was watching our flanks and rear. And watching her. She was ecstatic, stroking the barrier with her left hand, finally seeing first hand (ha-ha, yes, I know, another lame joke) that the whole alien presence thing was real. There was definitely something erotic in her awe. Or it was just me.
I pulled the metal key thingie from my pocket, held it in front of me, took Tia’s hand and walked through the barrier. I thought I felt some resistance in the air, but I couldn’t be sure and then it was over. We were standing in front of a roughly egg-shaped object, about three meters tall and six meters long. It was suspended in the air, silently levitating above the ground.
I knew that Theo had authorized me to access Advancer’s systems, but I had no idea about how to interact with that thing.
“Err… Ship? Open, please?”
I looked at Tia and shrugged dismissively, meaning something like “if you know a better way of talking to it, you’re welcome to try.” Tia clearly was not impressed with my verbal prowess. The alien craft, however, was of a different opinion, and a hatch had appeared in its side. Yes, appeared. One second there was nothing but a smooth mirror-like wall, and the next there was an irregular oval opening. It looked like the Advancers were keen on ovoid shapes. Three steps have materialized under the hatch, as an invitation to enter.
I went in first. Tia followed. There were two large seats in front of the ship’s interior, with ample space behind them, which could hold a few more seats or a sizeable cargo, but was empty at the moment. The pilot chairs were quite normal-looking, relative to the rest of the ship that is. They were not too dissimilar from the ones in our planes – the ones that haven’t been converted to fully automatic operation yet. Not surprisingly, I guess, because the Advancers had human bodies. There were also two elaborate devices to the sides of both seats that looked very much like complicated joysticks, resembling those of the older Airbus planes. However that’s where the similarity ended. There was no instrument cluster of any kind, and no pilot windows. The walls were uniform matt grey color throughout the interior of the craft.
I took a seat, which had a surprisingly human-looking harness, strapped in and looked at the grey wall in front of me. That needed fixing.
“Ah, ship – what should I call you? How about ‘ship’?”
Tia stopped figuring out her harness for a moment, just to look at me.
“How very original,” she said.
“You can call me anything,” the ship answered, “but for all intents and purposes I am the same entity that you have communicated with before. So I suggest call me ‘AI’ or ‘Ship’ as those names are brief. Technically, I believe that my kind of vessel is called ‘a shuttle’.”
“OK, AI – am I authorized to pilot you and how does it work? Do I give you voice commands or should I attempt manual operation?”
I glanced at the joystick, hoping to try it out.
“Yes, Art, you are an authorized pilot. You can state your destination, or you can try manual operation. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the controls. I will not let you crash or inflict any damage to me or yourself by excessive g-forces. Before we take off, do you authorize your companion to also have command privileges on this craft?”
I opened my mouth, then closed it again, not sure what to say. This was not a trivial question. I liked Tia and I had decided to trust her. She must have been on humanity’s side, after all. However she had proved herself capable of deceiving me, and I could not know her true motives and standing orders, so giving her control was a leap of faith. On the other hand, I really didn’t want to offend her. Not only did I need her help, but also pissing off a girl that happens to be a highly trained government operative armed with an automatic weapon, didn’t seem like a very good idea at the time.
“OK,” I said in as neutral tone as I could manage, “I authorise Tia to have command privileges, as long as she does not contradict my commands. I also need to have an unconditional override.”
“Done,” shuttle responded.
I sneaked a glance at Tia, to see if I managed to piss her off after all. Our eyes met. She was looking at me in a new way. I saw surprise in her eyes, but there was no anger. Instead I saw something else.
Was it a hint of respect?