I Got You
by Lou Antonelli
Part 1 appeared in issue 104.
“I’ve run into everybody since waking up two months ago, except Billy Longbrake. Where the heck is he?”
The Chief looked up from his console. “I didn’t know you had any tech friends.”
Travers checked the clamps on his suit. “We’re not really friends, I just enjoy visiting with him sometimes. You know he’s always cheerful and smiles that big smile.”
“Yes, and he’s always willing to help.” A thought seemed to flicker across the Chief’s face. “That’s why you haven’t seen him. He’s been working in the cargo module controls. He volunteered.”
“Volunteered for what?”
“Well, you know we had a few small breaches. One rock handed in middle of the cargo module memory block. The system shut down automatically. It’s taking him months to bring the whole system up.
“Doesn’t he have any help?”
“He said it’s easier for him to do it himself, as far as the coordination is concerned. Besides, we’re not in a rush. He’ll have it done by the time we enter Earth orbit.”
“These sub-light flights stink.”
“Well, we can’t exactly ride the bubble in the solar system.”
“Sorry, I’m just out of sorts.”
The Chief gave him an understanding look. Travers shook his head. “I know, don’t tell me, on-board relationships never work out.”
“You’re not the first one.”
Travers swiveled his frontplate into place and dropped the glareguard. “Probably not the last, either.”
The Chief snorted. “Ya’ think?”
Travers followed the handholds out the airlock and down the side of the Starship Jarvinen until he came to the fillstile where an oxy tank was supposedly loose.
“You think they’d have a damn bot with a little AI sense to do these shit jobs.”
“Temper. Temper.” The Chief’s voice was level. “Is the tank loose?”
Travers tried to rotate the valve of the tank with his fingers. “No. It’s tight and clamped. Wait, I see the problem.” He nudged a small red rectangle and saw it move slightly on the surface of the locker where the tank lay.
“The sensor’s loose. That’s why it gave a false reading. This’ll only take a spot of solder.”
“See, it’s that kind of trouble-shooting and problem solving a bot can’t do, or at least, do quickly.”
“If I’m going to have to weld, I expect a tall one when I get back.”
When Travers stepped out of the lower half of his suit, the Chief handed him a glass of ‘cranberry juice’.
Travers took a sip and smiled. “Damn, love these high-potency cranberries.”
“Now would a bot appreciate that?”
After a few drinks together, Travers’ declared, “Jeannie’s been avoiding me. I think it’s time to go see her.”
A look of concern flickered across The Chief’s face. “Heck, why look for trouble?”
“She should at least have the courtesy to tell me herself, instead of avoiding me and refusing my messages.”
“She probably doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
“Oh, like they’re not hurt now. Dumping me for somebody else while I’m in a med stasis.”
The Chief looked down and shook his head. “Shit, I was afraid this would happen.”
“What do you think, I’m going to get in some kind of trouble?”
Well, yes. You’re going to lose your temper.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
Travers turned to go.
“OK, listen to me. Will you make me one promise?”
“Don’t go to her quarters. Visit with her someplace public, like the lounge or the library. That way both of you will hold back from making a scene.”
Travers knitted his brows. “OK.”
“I’ve been around longer than you, hull banger. That counts for something.”
Travers nodded slightly as he walked into the corridor.
* * *
Jeannie was sitting at what he been “their” table when he walked in the lounge. There were some nervous glances and turnings away as he walked over. He sat opposite her. Red hair, green eyes, a porcelain complexion.
“Can’t tell me there wasn’t some gene splicing in her family before it was banned,” he thought.
He spoke up. “You’ve treated me like shit.”
“I haven’t treated you at all. I’m sorry. I guess I wanted to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.”
“Why couldn’t you tell me yourself?”
She locked him in her gaze. He saw something he didn’t understand.
“There is no good way to dump someone, is there?”
“That’s it then. Just jettison me like a load of garbage?”
“I can’t explain, and actually, I shouldn’t have to. You can’t tell me what to do.”
“I thought we had something together. I really did. What changed?”
“Honestly, John, I did. None of it’s your fault. I had some things change in my life, some things you don’t know about. I don’t have anything good to say, I mean, nothing that would make you feel better. I’m sorry.”
Travers stood up and tried to grab her hand. She jumped up and back, somehow without tipping over her seat.
“Don’t touch me!”
Travers stood back and shoved his seat out of the way. “I wouldn’t treat a servbot the way you treated me. When did you become so cold?”
“People change. Things change. Get on with it all.”
Travers waved his hand in dismissal. He couldn’t read her expression at all.
He knew he was about to explode, so he turned and walked out quickly, looking at no one.
Back in his quarters, he clenched his fists and pounded the walls.
After a while he calmed down and sat in his adjustable chair. He realized he was clenching his jaw. He craned his neck and heard a few soft pops.
“I am getting way too wound up,” he thought.
He had a quick thought. “When was the last time I listened to my music playlist?
He spoke up to his AI. “Access personal playlist.”
“Personal playlist downloading: John Sawtelle Travers.”
He reached down and pulled out a bag of red beer. He popped the stop and it slipped from his hand. The cheap beer foamed all over his clothes and began to run onto the floor. “Oh, crap, pop me a hand towel.”
“Hand towel delivered. Please request play number.”
“I’m busy. Play any damn thing.” He stood up quickly.
“Accessing personal favorite on play list, ‘I Got You Now’ by The Deneb Dreamers. Confirm.”
Travers froze and looked at the speaker where the system’s voice emanated. “Undo previous command.”
“Accessing personal favorite on play list, ‘I Got You Now’ by The Deneb Dreamers. Confirm.”
“I’ve never specified a personal favorite for my playlist.” Travers’ mouth grew dry. “Specify source of entry.”
“Entry through terminal upload of Jean Creighton Durant.”
Travers slipped on the wet floor and fell violently back into his chair. He sat there frozen for two or three minutes, and then finally croaked, “Specify date of upload.”
“17:42.35, February 17, 2355.”
Travers began to rub his face very hard up and down, very slowly. “Play personal favorite.”
“Error Code 8675309. Title and artist do not match.”
Travers looked directly into the overhead light. “Replace title. Correct title is ‘I Got You’.”
“I got you. More than a holo, I got you....”
‘Oh, my God’, he thought as the sound of the song was replaced by the roar of the rush of the blood to his ears as he passed out. ‘Jeannie has been dead since a month after I went into stasis’.
* * *
When he realized he was conscious, he was staggering down the hall towards the Engineering Section. He had no idea how long he had been wandering the halls. Travers leaned up against a wall and rubbed his head slowly up and down. ‘I’m going completely insane’, he thought.
He went into the Engineering Control Room. No one there, no Chief Reid, no Tim, no one. He punched a console.
“Location of Billy Longbrake.”
“AI Technical Specialist William Ray Longbrake last location Technical Department Emergency Console Sub-Deck 7.”
Travers rushed towards Sub-Deck 7. He knew in that area he would encounter few people, but he noticed that he encountered none. The Emergency Console for the Technical Department was in a room a little larger than a closet. The door was locked, and Travers knocked a few times before banging into it with his full strength three times with his shoulder. The door finally flew open and he knew immediately from the smell what he would find. Despite the sterile and filtered ship’s air, the smell of decomposition was unmistakable.
He backed into the hallway for a moment until he got used to the smell and then walked in and stood behind the body of Billy Longbrake slumped in the seat so he could read the screen still flickering up from the console.
“Customized Holographic Projection Program: Run Time: 6,602 hrs., 35 min. 17 secs.
He heard The Chief’s voice come from the hall. “Well, we almost had you fooled for the duration.”
The Chief and Tim Stevens came into the small room. They made no effort not to overlap.
“What the hell happened? What happened to us? To you?”
“John, we’ve always been your friends,” said Tim. “We still are.”
“We’re almost there,” said The Chief. “Take it easy.”
Travers ran through them and into the hall, where a bot rolled down the hall and hit him in the shoulder with a med dart.
* * *
This time, when he awoke, he felt cold and numb and his vision was blurry. He could barely make out The Chief and Tim as they leaned over his capsule.
The cover slowly opened and a med bot helped him into a jumpsuit.
Travers looked at the Chief. “It was Andiamo, then?”
“Yes, the flutter that you were caught in had both pathogens. But you only were nabbed by Wagram’s. One of the fossils that breached the hull had Andiamo.”
As they walked to the door, Tim said, “It’s over, buddy! This is the last time this will ever happen.”
“What do you mean?” He looked at the Chief
“We all did the best we could and held out for 45 days, certainly the longest anyone made it.” The Chief smiled. “The ship’s system was finally able, with the amount and variability of the data collected, to work out a model for a vaccine. Something good was accomplished by all this.”
“We knew by the time you would come out of stasis, the epidemic would have burnt out and the ship would be sterilized,” said Tim. “But you would be left alone for nine months while it chugged along at sub-light speed.”
“We knew that you wouldn’t be able to deal with the loneliness and the knowledge of what happened,” said he Chief.
“You’re probably right,” said Travers. “I’d be raving mad with space shock. So you all decided to have terminal uploads as you died?”
“Yes, and one by one as we died, the information was fed into the intelligent data base for the program Billy worked up. He stayed at his console as long as he could,” said Tim. “We had to make up a bullshit story about why he wasn’t around to cover up the fact he was the only one who wasn’t uploaded.”
“We made up that story that Jeannie had dumped you so wouldn’t realize we were only projections,” added The Chief. “We could finesse coming into physical contact with you. But Jeannie...” The Chief’s hologram continued as they traveled to the ship’s shuttle bay. “We managed to snooker you until just a couple of months out. What tipped you off?
“It was a mistake in my personal music playlist. I had once mentioned to Jeannie my favorite song was ‘I Got You’ by the Deneb Dreamers. She didn’t have my taste in music, really didn’t listen to traditional acoustic music at all, and she didn’t know the song. But I also remembered she mentioned the song once but got the title wrong. ‘I Got You Now’ is a different song by the New Deseret Chorale. The system made the same mistake when I called up my playlist...”
“How did you know she didn’t enter it herself?” asked Tim.
“If she had, the system would have given her an error message immediately because of the title and artist not matching. The fact the error remained until I stumbled across it....”
“You knew then it was because of a terminal cerebral upload,” said Tim.
“Yes, and then I checked the entry date. It all came together. I probably was suspecting it subconsciously for some time
The Chief smiled. “At least, we got you within striking distance..”
“Why am I so woozy this time?”
“We had to bring you up this time. Admin wasn’t sure until a few hours ago they would retrieve you .”
Travers looked at Tim. “Sorry bud, until they were sure the ship was decontaminated, Billy’s remains disposed of properly, and that you were clear, they wouldn’t have let you back, anyway.”
As they walked into the shuttle bay, projections of the crew appeared, including the captain who saluted The Chief and Tim as they stepped into the ranks.
This time Billy Longbrake appeared. “If I’m here, then this is goodbye. I banged this little empeg together for myself before I got too sick to think clearly. I wanted to make sure you had a good sendoff. I think you know we all did this because we all were your friends — or better — and we wanted to give this gift to you. Don’t be mad because we tried to fool you.” “I’m not.”
“Sorry, whatever you said I can’t respond. This isn’t an interactive program. Anyway, despite what happened to us, we all somehow felt grateful that you would be able to come through this. It was your good luck to be in med stasis as Andiamo burned through the ship. We thought that, even if we couldn’t save our own sorry butts, you could come through this, and this ruse has been our going away present. We wanted to return you healthy, sane and safe, and if you are seeing this projection, you are. Some small piece of all of us goes back with you. God bless you and good luck.”
The projection blinked out.
The Chief’s projection spoke from the ranks. “That shuttle is on autopilot. When the canopy opens, just hop in and you’ll be inside a decom bay at Columbia Station in ten minutes. The Jarvinen’s core, including the formula for the Andiamo vaccine, has already been uploaded. The ship will be destroyed shortly after you leave. Good luck, and we all hope you come out clear on the other side. For us, it’s over.”
Travers looked across the ranks of the crew members and his gaze stopped on the red-haired girl.
He looked at her. “Jeannie?”
“John, I’m not real.”
“I know, but it still helps a little. You can’t mind, can you?”
“I have no mind, I’m just part of a program that is running in the Technical Department.”
“I know. Still...” He leaned over and tried to kiss her cheek.
He looked for a moment into her eyes and knew that despite the complexity and sophistication of the program, that was all it was.
“I’m sorry for the story. It was the only way.”
“I understand.” He stepped back.
“You need to go, or all of this was for nothing.”
He stepped back, and began to turn away. He stopped.
“Thank you, all.”
He heard a pop that told him the canopy of the shuttle had opened.
He turned around and purposefully walked over to the shuttle without looking back and climbed the stairs.
When he reached the top, he turned around. The projections were all in their ranks, in the same attitude, heads down and hands by their side, and as he watched they blinked out all at once, except for Jeannie.
The hologram was alone for a brief moment in the bay, and then flickered. Just as it disappeared, she looked up at him.
Travers stared at the empty bay. He realized the shuttle was revving up. He turned and sat down as the canopy quickly closed. A few minutes later he was traveling towards the Columbia Station with the glow of the fireball that had been the Jarvinen fading behind him.
When he emerged from the shuttle into the decontamination bay of the Columbia Station, a screen came on and the station’s AI welcomed him.
“We are happy to have you aboard, Engineer Travers. You are almost at the end of a very long, difficult, and we might add, historic, journey.”
He looked at the screen and after a moment spoke very deliberately. “I had a lot of help,” he said. “I had... a lot... of help.”
Copyright © 2004 by Lou Antonelli