"The Physics of Connection"
SPOILERS: from the pilot through "The Mathematics of Tears."
SUMMARY: Rommie has some questions, so Harper tries to come up with some answers.
ARCHIVAL/DISTRIBUTION: Anywhere, as long as you ask me first.
FEEDBACK: can be sent to Viridian5@aol.com.
DISCLAIMERS: All things Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda belong to Gene Roddenberry’s estate, Majel Roddenberry, and Tribune Entertainment Company. Not mine at all, and I’m putting them back when I’m done with them.
NOTES: Yes, this is way in the future, but Harper speaks in our contemporary slang, which drives me up a wall, but it's canon.
Rommie's uniforms are hugely distracting. What were the Commonwealth's uniform designers thinking? (Okay, we know what they were thinking, but it's really inappropriate, okay?)
"The Physics of Connection"
Harper distrusted big, open spaces, especially big, bright open spaces. If people weren’t in that space already, usually there was a damned good reason. Better to fade into the crowd, but even better than that was to find someplace where you could put your back against a wall, had a small entry hatch in front of you, and could see everything coming and hopefully fight it.
Tonight he woke up from a nightmare where the people who wanted to kill him kept getting back up every time he knocked them down. While he gasped for air, he got panicky all over again by how big his new room was. Pretty stupid. Even stupider was that he went out into the corridors, which were bright in addition to being big and open. But at least they weren’t his room.
Then, walking aimlessly along, he started to think about the thousands of empty rooms the Andromeda had. Dylan refused to sell any of the mementos his escaping crew had left behind, so the Andromeda had rooms full of things belonging to people who’d been dead for centuries. Curious and bored one day, Harper had done a little recon and freaked himself out thoroughly. Some of the rooms looked like they’d been ransacked, some looked anal-retentive military neat, but the worst had to be the ones where it seemed like the owner had stepped out in a hurry and might be back any moment.
In its own way, the Andromeda Ascendant was as much of a ghost ship as the Pax Magellanic.
The corridors stopped seeming like an okay place.
He was usually better than this, much better, but tonight even his sense of humor failed him.
Harper had briefly thought to return to the relatively cramped, comforting spaces of the Eureka Maru, but he’d faced the unstoppable androids who’d also starred in his dream there only recently, so he decided against it. Which didn’t mean he’d never be able to enter the salvage ship again, just not tonight. Besides, the Maru as home was the past. Thus, he now sat in one of Andromeda’s maintenance tubes, listening to her workings, feeling her hum through his skin.
His new ship and new home, large enough to keep the Maru and a fleet of ships in its hanger bay. A High Guard warship, a treasure from the past beyond price. Like the insane, homicidal Pax Magellanic had been.
And not like. He so hoped. For his own safety, for the others’ safety, and because he liked Rommie and really didn’t want to see her go the way Jill Pearce or Maggie or whatever the hell else the Pax called herself had gone.
If anybody on the night shift asked him what he was doing here, he had his tool belt on as an excuse. One of the advantages of being engineer.
"Harper?" Rommie crouched down beside him in the body he’d made for her.
Harper looked at her and hooked his thumb in his tool belt. She responded by raising an eyebrow. Rommie couldn’t pull off "stern," not with how cute she had been designed to look, but he crumpled under the force of that raised eyebrow anyway. "I couldn’t sleep," he said.
As usual, he had to keep pulling his eyes away from her plunging neckline and all the cleavage it exposed. The leather didn’t help, or it did help, just not in any wholesome way. Who’d designed the Commonwealth’s uniforms for them anyway? Not that Harper minded, not in this case. The AI avatars all seemed to be knockouts too, but had they looked like such sexbombs even on ships commanded by women? Then again, who in his right mind would have named a warship "Pax" anything? Aside from maybe a Nietzschean, whose idea of peace usually meant a weapon to the head of people he wanted to "pacify."
Hell, why had the supposedly peaceful Commonwealth possessed such a large military and great weaponry tech anyway? It made Harper wonder.
"That’s better," Rommie said. "You know that you couldn’t lie to me about whether I needed maintenance."
"It’s social lying. I’d suggest that, and then you’d go along to spare my fragile ego."
"Fragile ego? What have you done with the real Seamus Harper?"
But she looked so sad, which didn’t surprise him. Magellanic had tricked them into killing her, taking down her shields so that blasts meant to incapacitate had instead blown the ship to bits. Rommie’s missiles had done that, which meant that she’d killed her own sister ship, whom she’d been trying to save.
Harper felt that the Pax Magellanic had died far too quickly and easily.
After finding out that the Pax had killed her crew, destroyed a planet, picked off all the salvagers who’d come looking for her in the centuries since, and intended to kill the Andromeda crew, Dylan had wanted to erase Pax’s personality and start over, giving him another High Guard ship to try to reestablish the Commonwealth with. It made sense, and under other circumstances, Harper would have been thrilled to have another Andromeda-like ship to work on. But how would that have affected Rommie, seeing a new mind using her sister’s body? Thinking that Harper’s cousins’ impending deaths would mean life for the clutch of Magog hatchlings incubating inside them sure as hell hadn’t consoled his family.
Given the choice the situation had forced his family to make, Harper understood Rommie’s grief all too well.
He didn’t really think about what he did next; he just hugged her. He didn’t have anything pervy in mind; he just thought they both needed it. It was awkward, since he was sitting and she was crouching, but she turned to face him better and started to hug back, even relaxing into it. Her sable hair smelled a little like strawberries, one of his more inspired tweaks on the design and much better than the original med bay-sterile metal and plastic scent. Her skin felt a bit denser than it should and had less give to it, but maybe that just came from knowing what she was. Dylan hadn’t suspected a thing about Jill Pearce even as they were starting to get it on.
Then again, Dylan hadn’t gotten any in three hundred years real time and a few months his own time.
Rommie’s right hand carded Harper’s hair. "You do this on purpose?"
"Hey, don’t insult my spikes, woman."
He had things he’d love to know but had too much tact--stop laughing--to actually ask her. She’d gone from having 4,000 spit-shined soldiers onboard--military, like she was--to having only her beloved captain and an additional crew of five. And what a crew: a Nietzschean, one of the few non-homicidal Magog in creation, whatever the hell Trance was, an independent-minded salvage pilot, and a self-taught guy messing around with her workings who considered himself an engineer. Did she ever feel empty by comparison? How much of the ship’s interior was the AI aware of at once?
But Harper doubted that any of those soldiers would have thought to hug an AI. Okay, the Pax’s captain did, but Warrick had used the Pax’s avatar as a sextoy, which wasn’t the same thing at all.
Rommie’s hand started to stroke circles around the implant on the back of Harper’s neck behind his ear, making him twitch. He’d gotten the data port forever ago, but the skin around it was still sensitized. She couldn’t know what she was doing to him; it had to be just curiosity, but he was torn between asking her to stop and humping her leg. Which made him a class act, he knew, but he couldn’t help it, not when it felt this good and uncomfortable at the same time.
Then her fingers passed over the port’s socket and sent a pulse of something down directly into his neural net. She had her other hand on his ass, but what she’d done to his port made that a moot point while he was so busy having the god of all orgasms.
He’d tried some things with his implant twice--he was young and entitled to be stupid now and then, okay?--but his last attempt to use it for pleasure had given him the smell of bleach trapped in his skull and a feeling of being singed from the inside out and kicked in the head for two days afterward. Deciding that messing around with his neural net without even getting some decent jollies was stupid, he quit it.
This went so far beyond a jolly that it didn’t even live in the same universe. This felt more like he’d been set on fire with pleasure; he felt incredible all the way to the tips of his hair. It pulsed through him in waves. But it was too much, too good, whiteout....
Then it faded, leaving him feeling like he’d gone from flying with the angels to slogging through mud. It left him a gasping, rubbery puddle, lying on the floor unable to move while Rommie, obviously worried, looked down at him.
This wasn't the way it worked. He was supposed to give her a stupid come-on line, as per his rep, then she would turn him down flat. No one expected anything to come of it, on either side. It was just routine, almost comforting. So when did he cross over into this alternate, bizarro universe?
"What the hell was that?" he finally managed to ask when he got his vocal cords working again.
"I wanted to see if I could figure out why Maggie liked it so much."
Harper went cold. "How did it feel on your end?" Dumb question actually. How could she know if she registered touch the way humans did?
Rommie considered. "It felt... nice holding you, especially when you pressed closer to me while I was stroking your neck. But I have to say that the way you spasmed when I sent that pulse down your neural net was too frightening."
Sounds like he was lucky he hadn’t bitten his tongue off. "Yeah, your partner isn’t supposed to go into a seizure. Look, ‘Seamus Harper, living example of the perils of the flesh’ sounds good, but it’s... it’s just wrong. And it’s not like everybody has an implant for you to play with either."
"You jack into my systems with it sometimes, and you offered to download me into your neural net once to hide me. I was curious about it. I’m sorry I hurt you."
"Hurt me-- It didn’t exactly hurt." The whole thought made him squirm. He supposed he should probably be thankful that his body had been too busy seizing up to actually come. "Felt too good actually."
"That’s a good thing?"
He felt much too relaxed. Pulling himself up into a sitting position shouldn’t have been this hard. "Not in this case. Rommie, you used me like I was an object, the same way it sounds like Pax’s captain used her."
"An object? No, I chose you because I like you."
That did funny things to his stomach until he remembered the only other choices she had onboard. Only Dylan could work for this aside from him, and Rommie loved Dylan, but her love had to seem suspect to her now in light of what had happened between Pax and her captain.
"Captain Warrick took advantage of the Pax, and Dylan wouldn’t do that to you." At Rommie’s look of incomprehension, Harper said, "What Warrick had with Pax would be perfect for some guys. He had this babe who would obey his every command, change herself over for him, and not make any demands in return. Or so he thought. He stopped treating her like a ship... until the end, when he showed his true colors and Pax went ‘round the bend from it. He still treated her like an object the whole time, but as a different kind of object." Rommie looked like her head might explode trying to compute it. Harper sighed. "Okay. Some men--not all men, just bad men... okay, a lot of men--treat flesh and blood women like objects too. Sex objects. They pretend to themselves that women don’t have any feelings or needs of their own. Warrick just switched between using her as a ship object and using her as a woman object."
"And women don’t realize this?"
He felt weirdly paternal. At this rate he’d be telling her he’d chase her boyfriends away with a force lance. "Some of them don’t, and some of these guys are really smooth at it. Guys have been doing this for thousands of years, after all." Harper never thought he’d be giving a "men are pigs" speech to an AI, passing on the wisdom, but, hey, expect the unexpected. At least she didn’t want to know about the birds and the bees.
But he loved her, even beyond the fact that she was this incredible ship, and what had happened to the Pax Magellanic had been such a waste.
He wondered when the Pax had changed her name to Jill Pearce, because it suggested a personality schism. If her captain had given it to her, he should have been put in front of a firing squad. Then again, she had blown him to hell herself. If she’d given it to herself when they’d been going together, he should have seen it as a danger sign. If she’d done it after destroying the planet and her crew, it could have been an attempt to dodge the guilt.
Rommie had such pain, mixed with some anger, in her dark eyes. "Dylan sees me as a machine. And I am a machine."
"Yeah, but that’s not a bad thing."
"I’m the only one like me now! Pax might have been company, at least. But instead I’m alone."
They needed somebody wise for this talk, but he’d do his best. Harper couldn’t do any less, especially not when she was so upset. "Rommie, we’re all the only ones like us. Dylan’s 300 years out of time and the last person alive who remembers the Commonwealth from personal experience. Tyr’s the last survivor of the Kodiak Pride, Rev isn’t anything like a Magog, and we don’t even know what Trance is, let alone if there are any more like her out there."
"What about you and Beka?"
"She’s my boss, kind of my captain. Look, about the only thing we have in common is that we’re human."
"You’re both blond."
"Uhm, yeah. Blond. But we don’t have any important things in common. It’s not like there’s this organic being connectedness going on, this big, great something we’re not letting you be part of. We’re all alone inside our heads, Rommie, just like you." Wow. Listen to him being the great philosopher.
Rommie seemed to consider it for a while, then surprised him by saying, "You don’t have any loyalties to the Commonwealth. You’re not invested in Dylan’s quest to reinstate it."
Where did that come from? "It sounds okay, but I have no experience of it. People only know what’s in place now, and I don’t think they can imagine your Commonwealth anymore. And I don’t think just the six of us and you can start it up again. At best, it’s going to take a few lifetimes. Though, if we succeed, the Commonwealth will probably screw the little guy over too."
"The Commonwealth stands for law and order, protection for all."
"Whose law and whose protection? Rich guys’ probably. There must have been some bureaucracy on that sucker, and I can just imagine the paperwork, fines, tariffs, licenses, and regulations a small salvage operation would be up against."
Rommie looked down her snub nose at him. "That’s very cynical."
"And 100% correct, right?"
"So you’re not loyal to Dylan or the Commonwealth."
"Dylan’s okay, when he removes the rod stuck up his... back."
"But that’s not the same thing as fealty. Are you loyal to me?"
He answered without hesitation, "Yes."
She smiled. "Yes, you are. You offered to download me into your neural net to save me even knowing it would burn out your mind and nervous system when the Castalians wanted to execute me for murder, then tried to confess to the murder when I refused your offer. You wouldn’t do that for just anyone."
"Well." Harper ran his hand through his hair. "I’m really generous?" When she hugged him, he tried to lighten the mood by saying, "You’re not going to molest me again, are you?"
"Not unless you ask me to." But the quirk of her mouth told him she was kidding. Fortunately? And, damn, who would design a warship’s AI to be so cute looking? Like a big kitten... but with enough armaments at her disposal to blow a star system away. "I think I like hugging."
How sad was it that recent events made him wonder if that was a good thing?