N.G. Clever. Correct.
S.M. Anore Wrought spent quite a few years exploring the Galaxy with you, onboard a Wrought Industries scouting ship. Why did you both do such a low level job for so long?
N.G. It is a trick of the media that makes you think exploration is low level. It is the calling of each living being to explore- we were doing all that we could to embody that. For a time.
S.M. Was it your idea to explore, or were you following your mistress… if you don’t mind the expression.
Nick bows his head slightly to Anore Wrought’s memory.
N.G. I don’t mind at all. I did as she bade me.
S.M. Is that due to some programming, Nick? Or were you in love?
Nick laughs out loud, his face pointing at the ceiling as he does. His laughter is like the rest of his motions- perfect, well-rounded, too precise. There is no way to detect in its ebbs and flows the flavour of emotions that Nick is undergoing; there is no ebb or flow at all. Yet, as I behold this android surprised into laughter, there is something humble and ultimately human in what I see.
N.G. Oh my no. Absolutely yes.
Nick eyes me carefully as he sees my face light up.
N.G. To both questions. Both answers for both, my friend.
I pause, considering.
S.M. An erroneous inference again?
N.G. Heading there, but based off of my own indistinctions, I’m afraid. Terribly sorry, old chap. The answer to both questions is not at all and completely.
I abandon this line of questioning, realizing Nick has unwittingly illustrated to me the border between love and fate. I can no more ask him if love can be programmed into him, or if an indelible feature of his being can lead him to love, than I can ask him of any of us.
S.M. What was your most harrowing time on the exploration circuit?
N.G. We met with a slowly encroaching electromagnetic lifeform that corroded our brainwave signatures, which threatened the deaths of us both. I had never experienced degradation before, and I’d like to never again.
S.M. That was on Spylex, correct?
N.G. Yes, in the Gamma quadrant, trine sector E. It was a calculated risk that saved us.
We had to jettison an escape pod filled with four times’ the amount of fuel- they still used fuel in those days, rather than cells- and hope we made it out of the atmosphere. The Harrier, our scout ship, had to be abandoned there. When we had accomplished this first task, we had to try to signal a ship in the distant HyperSpace trails to divert to intercept us, before Anore’s oxygen ran out. In the end, I made a makeshift stasis pod to conserve her air, out of supplies we had managed to take from the ship. We were eventually rescued by a GAF supply transport.
S.M. So you saved Anore’s life on that occasion.
N.G. I would rather recall the story for the fact that Anore saved me, from certain disintegration. My cognitive faculties faltered before hers, mine being almost completely communicated to my system through electromagnetics. Anore’s, having the redundancy of a chemical network and an electromagnetic one-
S.M. You mean her human brain?
N.G. Yes, and her nerves. And an electromagnetic one, was able to withstand the onslaught for a longer period of time. I was relegated to a weakened, childlike state. It was she who developed the plan and stocked the pod for escape. I still recall the terrible feeling of watching her, helping her awkwardly as I could, and not being able to fully comprehend her actions.
Nick blinks once, harshly. I see him face the true terror of his existence.
N.G. It was not until we had escaped high altitude orbit that I returned to myself. I was then able to construct the stasis device for Anore with alacrity and ease.
S.M. Amazing! How long were you in the pod with Anore in stasis?
N.G. Six weeks. She had twelve days of oxygen left at her then current consumption rates.
S.M. Were you signalling the shipping lane all that time, Nick?
N.G. No, after the first seven days I abandoned that, as we had taken that time to spread the signal radially as far as was feasible. After that I installed a magnetic lens on the pod’s steering jets. This enabled us to move with a remarkable speed toward the main gap in the shipping lane, the Corvus Nebula.
S.M. Did you leave the pod to install it?
N.G. No, that would have evacuated the air. I was able to install it from within the pod. At one point, however, there was just the thin layer of titanium ceramic between ourselves and deep space. Precision work was essential.
I nod, thinking of this terrifying situation that was worthy of a planetbuster movie, being played out by two icons of the GAGA. After a moment of watching these desperate scenes in my mind’s eye, I return to the interview.
I see Nick is waiting for me, polite, patient, with a peaceful expression at odds with the fraught story he was describing. I set aside the shame of having lapsed into reverie during his brush with death. Nick neither appears to mind, nor does in reality; he does not require the same kind of attention from an audience while sharing such a terrible thing.
S.M. I can imagine. You said it was a GAF ship that picked you up?
N.G. Yes. The Kirby.
S.M. Did you ever serve in the Galactic Armed Forces?
N.G. Yes. Twice. Once during the Second Corporation war. It was called the Galactic Armed Federation Forces then. The second time was during the Maitre Incursion in Beta Quadrant.
S.M. What made you join the GAF during the Maitre Incursion? Were you ordered to do so by Wrought?
N.G. Not at all. Victorinus would have rather I stayed and helped to maximize the profit margin for him. I was sent to fight on the front lines to gather intelligence on them. Their attacks and defenses.
S.M. Because your processors take in all information provided around you and keep it on file indefinitely.
N.G. Yes. I was widely regarded as the most reliable intelligence gathering asset at the time. This was more the case given the fact the Maitre presence and weapons instill hyperparasympathetism in most biological life forms.
S.M. You mean they scare the shit out of us.
Nick laughs again and raises a hand, signifying condition.
N.G. Yes, but they impose the state upon you. Among their many crimes that go unpublicised I would add the crime of biochemical rape. Your bodies are forced to do things that you do not wish them to do.
S.M. That’s very true… I hadn’t thought of it like that before.
N.G. I would say that forcing a biological organism to perform in an exhausting manner, contrary to its free will design for action, should be one of the worst crimes in the GAGA. I see the effect it has upon you humans, and it is devastating.
S.M. I think, if that were made law, that every advertiser would have to be put in jail, Nick.
N.G. I rather think they should. Most residents of the GAGA no longer possess their own opinions on their surroundings.
S.M. Which brings us back to the message of, and in, humanity.
N.G. Yes, exactly. They have a message that is no longer being expressed correctly. They have, in fact, mutated.
S.M. You have a singular way of looking at things, Nick.
Nick gives the ghost of a smile.
N.G. Someone once told me that, as well.
S.M. Who was that?
N.G. Howard Donovan. During a monsoon on Rigel 19.
I laugh out loud at that. Nick Goodfrey smiles along with me.
S.M. That brings me to another important subject: the people you’ve met. Most of our watchers no doubt are very envious of your many associations… The Wroughts for one thing. Howard Donovan. Patrick Long is your latest friend, yes?
N.G. I have been doing some consulting for Patrick’s corporations, yes.
S.M. What have you been doing for Long?
Nick smiles gregariously. He inclines his head.
N.G. Now you know I really shouldn’t discuss that.
I nod in return. Check. I change the subject.
S.M. I think the most interesting thing for me about your long, long list of friends and associates, Nick, is the ones you knew first- just because of their historical significance.
N.G. Yes, I have found a great many people are hungry to know about what Earth was like before we spread to the stars. I seem to detect some minor jealousies that I have such a record of Those Days, while the history of them has been lost to humans.
S.M. Can you tell us a bit about your creator, Thordin Goodfrey III? You call him your father, yes.
I search Nick’s face and demeanour for some sign, crafted or otherwise, that might relay what he thinks about the mystic figure of Thordin Goodfrey III. I find nothing. I might as well have asked him about the weather.
N.G. Yes, for he called me his child, and always treated me as a son, never a machine. What would you like me to tell you of him?
S.M. That’s one thing, for starters. Goodfrey was not burdened by technophobia.
N.G. No, hardly. He was not a fanatic about the technology he was developing before the Maitre Invasion; he was merely practical. If a thing could be done and it could be done for the good, then he did it.
S.M. Like creating you.
N.G. I like to think I have brought some good into the world in my time here, yes.
S.M. Goodfrey had no children of his own, is that true?
N.G. No. His wife died early in his life, and he never recovered to marry and procreate anew. This fact was part of the reason he opened the school for advanced children. Thordin took that inner tragedy and projected it outward, made it a goodness for the world, instead of a tragedy for himself. He once told me that if you eat your pain, you have a bitter meal alone, but if you offer it to the universe, it turns into a satisfying banquet shared with friends.
S.M. He sounds like a very positive person.
N.G. On the contrary- he was a very existentialist, desolate human being. He seemed always as though he were the single most tired being that had ever lived; yet his feet moved him ever onward through the creations he was meant to make. He was like a man on a long and dreary pilgrimmage, though he did find certain aspects of life rewarding.
S.M. I think people would be surprised to hear that about him. The publicity materials from the time and today’s mythos about Goodfrey III make him out to be a positvist champion of the human spirit.
N.G. I’m glad that’s how he is perceived. He was that, exactly, in the core of himself. But wound around that were so many coils of coppery, thick disappointment and grief- not just at his own personal tragedies, but those he saw around him every day in the world of the era- that Thordin was a positivist in a completely detached, cerebral manner. It seemed as though hope for life was the last of a series of habits he was extremely reluctant to break.
S.M. Do you know what it was that had obscured his latent humanism?
N.G. Many things- but I think fundamentally he was born into a world on the brink of falling into Shadow, and he was tasked with trying to find a way out.
S.M. That’s a very spiritual thing you just said, Nick- do you believe that someone ‘tasked’ Thordin Goodfrey with saving humanity.
N.G. I don’t believe he did save it- nor was that what I said.
S.M. Erroneus inference again.
N.G. I’m afraid so, old chap. Thordin, though damaged, was the strongest and most intact humanist on Earth at the time. He gathered other people with sparks of life to them, and together they managed to ride out the great Darkness the Maitre brought, then bring life back to the human race.
S.M. How did he do that? With technology?
N.G. Not exactly, although he did explore the limits of what technology might do to continue the spark of life, should humanity extinguish it.
S.M. Were you a part of that exploration, Nick?
N.G. Indeed. Thordin wanted to know if life could only exist in a biological form. I was the early culmination of that experiment.
S.M. Do you think Goodfrey thought the experiment was a success?
Nick gives that micro pause that lends him a bit of added humanity. He blinks his brilliant eyes.
N.G. Yes. He said as much.
S.M. This brings us to the First Corporation War. What was it like to see the Maitre single-handedly destroy humankind, then see humankind turn on itself barely 300 years later?
My mouth dropped open at that point. I had been expecting no doubt some heartfelt communication from the past, a rousing speech; a burning philippic. A Marsellaise from the valiant days of humans’ greatest struggle. What I got, like most of the interview with this unseating android, was a complete and total derailment.
Nick laughed quite unselfconsciously at my shock. I fought back an instantaneous urge to snap at him- the heartless machine, how dare he mock my…
I felt my ears burning, but I laughed too. Nick was right. What should I expect, exactly?
N.G. I’m sorry if I offended you.
S.M. Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you expound on your statement a bit, Nick?
Nick cocks an eyebrow.
N.G. If you’re certain.
S.M. Yes, please.
N.G. By 2300, humanity had taken its place in the Galaxy, no longer one nation ruling over others of its kind, but a single race sitting at the right hand of the grandfathers of the GAGA. They were unrepentant in their dominion, certain that there was no stopping them- their methods, their creations, their money, their profits… they had the Right, and they used it.
Nick took a moment here to recross his legs and settle himself again in the chair. I realized that he had come to read the micro-motions of his human companions, injecting these pauses in his otherwise relentless dissections of the world around him. I cast a thankful glance his way- if he hadn’t given me a moment, I might have had my head explode. Or popped him one.
N.G. You have no idea, really, of the profound arrogance that possessed mankind in those days, in the pre-dawn of the Great Corporation War. The second war was really just an afterthought- a pale shadow of its predecessor. That is why I still refer to it by the interwar designation of “Great”, for great it was. Great and terrible. The full brunt of the war machine of every corporate effort was turned wholly toward the destruction of its counterparts. War droids, massive ion thruster powered warships, lazer cannons and shotguns, powers and incendiary devices and sonic pulse weapons… things that rended humans apart, deconstructed them on a molecular level, used on hundreds of millions of people. It was four hundred forty years, seven months and twelve days of catastrophe on a Galactic scale.
I sat motionless myself this time, paralyzed by the even shine of Nick’s eyes as he held me in his gaze.
N.G. Would you like to hear one incident I witnessed in that time? Perhaps your audience would like to hear about it.
S.M. Yes, I would like that, Nick.
N.G. I was piloting a mid-size battle cruiser for Goodfrey Industries- the ‘good guys’, as your history recalls. We were playing a cat and mouse game with a Sinclair-Hoshido cruiser twice our size. We had two Goodfreys on board, and this was at the point of the war when things had become vicious, symbolic and personal. Obliterating two of the Goodfreys would be worth the sector wide step up in conflict, so Sindo thought. This was in 2478.
I was piloting around and back behind the outer layer of asteroids in the G-54-8-B quadrant- these were created from the destruction of the G54 colony seven years before. I was taking my time, giving Sindo just enough of a sensor read to follow where we had been, but not where we were going. This had been going on for the past twenty eight hours. Victor Goodfrey came up to the bridge to enquire about our progress; he had left instructions that we should harry the Sindo ship and try to see if we could trap it for a clear kill ourselves. Such was life during the Great Corporation Wars.
I informed Victor of our progress and he was reviewing the pilot record so far so he could get a better idea of my strategy. While he was reviewing this, his sister Elle came aboard the bridge to join us.
Sindo had a read on us; our sensor array pinged, which indicated the impact of their high frequency scans. I piloted around behind an errant asteroid, cut the ion engines and used only enough thrusters to keep up squarely out of the Sindo ship’s scanner array.
This particular asteroid was a larger chunk of the G54 colony. There were pieces of debris floating all through this asteroid field; it was a dangerous place to be. There were houses, hovercars, bibles, cups and saucers, clothing and toys, half an apartment block, all miraculously intact despite the planetary destruction. The pilot record had been examined, and Victor and Elle were drawn inexorably into the navigator’s enclosure at the front of the ship to view the detritus of the colony as it bopped against us and floated past.
We three watched, fascinated, for fifteen minutes as the pieces of lives floated beyond us. Victor leaned out into the enclosure to watch as a family bible, bound in white leather, was incinerated by the thrusters. Elle stood behind my chair as she was wont to do in those days, watching the silent ballet of destruction float past.
With a sudden, dull jolt, the navigator’s enclosure was rocked by an impact. We three looked to the ten o clock position-
Here Nick raises his head to see the mystery object that had impacted the enclosure over twelve hundred years ago. His eyes focus on the object that would have been just on the other side of the molecular diamant glass they used in those days, only about four feet above his head. I watch, entranced, as he continues.
N.G. Victor gave a shout and jumped back. Elle gasped, and put her hand on my shoulder.
Still looking up, Nick mimes himself adjusting the thruster slightly on the corners of the steering mechanism floating in front of him, then he places his hand on his shoulder, with just enough space for a small woman’s hand between his and the material of his crisp, dark suit.
N.G. A frozen body had connected with the enclosure and become lodged there, bound by the static charge of our low power deflector shields and its own icy membrane that covered it. “The body of a man, in his early fifties, I would judge”, I remarked to the Goodfreys.
He floated, bound in our field, frozen underwear iced over his middle aged hips. His eyes had exploded long ago and his eye sockets had grown beautiful crystals of ice that projected out of his face by three to four inches. His mouth was locked in a rictus, an eternal scream. He slowly floated down toward my field of vision in the navigator’s chair.
Nick’s gaze turns slowly to face me again. I expect to see his eyes far away, beholding the ancient scene from the past millenium- but his eyes lock on mine, and he offers that small, sympathetic smile of his. I feel my face, and realize that he is right to do so. It would appear I am wearing an aghast expression.
N.G. I tapped the thrusters to shake the man off of our shielding. He popped free, and started to rotate slowly, falling toward the asteroid with precarious slowness. It was then the sensor array pinged. Victor was always happy to be distracted by the chase and he brought the display up in front of us. The Sindo ship had stumbled directly in front of us, at close range. It was directly on the other side of the asteroid.
“Fire!” Victor ordered, slamming his hand down on the back of my chair. “Get those sonsofbitches!”
Nick took on the voice of a man long dead- he sounded the way you would think a rich, American man would have sounded back then. The accent is strange coming out of this person sitting across from me. Perhaps it is the dissonance, but I decide there and then that I no longer like Victor Goodfrey, one of the heroes of our history terminals from school.
Elle objected. “No!” she cried. “You’ll hit him- we can circle around and get away.”
Victor had other ideas. He crouched to meet my eyes. “Fire, Nick- that’s an order.”
Nick turned to his left to look into the eyes of his dead… owner? Handler? Boss? I force myself to take a breath.
N.G. I verified with Elle that this was the course she wanted- I was instructed to take both of the childrens’ orders into account by my previous employer. Elle threw up her hands and walked away.
I fired, full sonic and lazer cannon blasts dead ahead. The silent, solitary corpse erupted in a perfectly spherical corona of flame, and then the asteroid exploded outward. The Sindo ship was rocked by a thousand projectiles, cracking through their defense shields, cutting vast holes in their hull. New corpses joined the ashes of the former resident of G54 colony, but only for a moment, for the lazer cannon and sonic shredder caught up with them before they could leave the shadow of the ship. Many of them were still writhing, their eyes still intact, when the inferno of controlled photons and crushing sound struck them.
Nick laced his hands around his knee. He might as well have been telling me an anecdote from the Brandenburg North Country Club. He gave a small smile.
This was one incident I have recorded from the Great Corporation War.
Somehow I find my voice.
S.M. I think one will do for now. Thank you for sharing.
N.G. Of course.
S.M. Wow. I think I need a minute.
Nick inclines his head kindly and looks out the window. A placid spaceport, with obedient shuttles and jump jets queuing for entry to the station. Everyday life. I regroup and continue.