I wasn’t sure how she’d respond to the knowledge we’d not only kidnapped her, but planned the remainder of her life as a sensitive serving a sentient ship of the Conservative Katar Legion. It was why I was still shaving without a mirror. -Mik Rile
I hadn’t left my stool, and Mik was still on the bench, feet wide on the floor, elbows propped on his knees.
“So you do know my name.”
He thought I was dumb. Well, he had my disc and could see I didn’t do that poorly on my graduation exams from the VIT. I passed. Wasn’t I supposed to be special, a sensitive? Maybe I was like a musical genius…not so good at mechanics but brilliant with a violin?
“Of course, I do. I said it before, didn’t I?”
“Never mind. I didn’t want to ask you anything anyway.” I crossed my arms across my chest.
“I’m sorry. What do you want to know? That’s why I’m here, to ease your transition as you investigate your gift. It’s what I’m trained to do.”
Maybe he was right that I was dumb. I didn’t know what he meant by investigating my gift or what he could do for me besides take me home. Besides, I was only going to ask how to change the color of the light rings on the chair. I’d activated the switch that brought it out of the wall but it was dead to further biolectric suggestion.
“I said I was sorry. Is everyone on Visily this grumpy?”
“No one is grumpy there. Only people who are kidnapped and taken from everything they’ve ever known and labeled homosensitive.”
“I don’t know what else I can do but what I’m doing, explaining the situation to you.”
“There was no situation until I was abducted from the spaceport.”
“Fucking hells, Jubilee! Whether there was a situation before or not, there is one now, and it’s my job to help you deal with it!”
“Is that what they teach in Ytar school? To shout at the captured sensitives?”
Mik clasped and unclasped his hands. He bowed his head and breathed in and out slowly through his nose, his lips clamped. He talked to his boots. “No, it’s not what they teach.” His head snapped up. “But we never had a sensitive from Visily or they might have! What did you want to ask me?”
I could hardly ask about changing the color of the light at this point. With his eyebrows low and twitching, hands clasped until his knuckles were white, Mik looked on the verge of going ape. Fortunately, I had so many questions they were queued.
“I want to know what you’re going to do to me. Why did you bring me here?”
“That’s a good question.” He breathed deeply, more easily, and his hands hung lax. He had long fingers and hairy knuckles. “It has to do with the Katar who didn’t want to free the sentients. They rebelled, fled, and took their ships so they had muscle to back their viewpoint.”
“Their slave ships?”
He nodded. “That’s what they are. The Katar homeworld could have written off those ships as lost, but we’d acknowledged them as citizens, and most of us still believe that.”
“Why did the rebels keep sentients? Couldn’t any AI operate just as well?”
Mik held my gaze. “You tell me.”
I stood to press my palms against K’seng’s wall. Her hearts beat; her lungs filled with air and chems; her skins were tactile. She was more than an AI, more than mechanical functions or engines. She was born with sentience, a soul before the Katar provided her form.
“Go on,” I said over my shoulder.
“After my government tried every other channel to rescue the sentients, military operations were sanctioned to attempt to free them. It was the last action anyone wanted to take, because it forced the captured sentients to fire against those trying to help them.”
I swung to face him. “Did the sentients agree to that?”
“They have representation in our government and voted for the action. We have since designated the rebels as a hostile political entity and officially declared war. Men, women, and ships have died on either side and are still dying.”
Shuffling, I sunk to the chair. Its wave-like motion soothed me, and its unerring capacity to balance my mass was reassuring in a galaxy where people died in chaotic violence.
“You still haven’t told me why I’m involved. What do sensitives do, Mik?”
“I told you about the war so you understand how important you are. But sensitives were on ships before. There’s a flaw in the AI programming that manifests once sentience emerges, when the AI becomes aware of its psychic needs. Even knowing it exists, Katar are blind to the error. We were unable to aid our ships, but they discovered their own solution when, by chance, a sensitive came aboard. The bond between ship and sensitive is crucial to a ship’s psychic well-being and, therefore, its function, though it’s hard for Katar like me to understand why that is.”
“So you kidnapped bioloids and forced them to befriend the ships?”
“Of course not. You’ve met K’seng. You responded as every sensitive has. People we brought on board wanted to stay. You see that, don’t you?”
The shared intimacy of the thrum. It was as irresistible to other sensitives as it was to me. By the time I was five or six, I’d stopped talking about it, as children give up imaginary friends, but I never experienced it as potently I did with K’seng. The AIs on Visily were faint echoes of K’seng’s mind.
“I do. I apologize.”
“That’s a first.”
“Don’t ruin it, Mik. Tell me the rest.”
“As more sensitives were discovered, the ships formed closer bonds with some. Some were too close, resulting in over-dependence by the sensitive, enthralled by the vast mind of an AI. The ships tried to deal with that on their own, but the more they worked with the sensitive, the closer they became, and another solution was sought.”
“I knew that ID disc couldn’t be all there was to know about you, Jubilee Wistler. Ytar. My job is to help you and a ship form a balanced bond in which you maintain separate lives, neither too dependent on the other.”
“I’m listening. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”
Mik was forthcoming, but for every question he answered, I had two more. Though information was coming almost faster than I could understand, I had to know.
“Why me and not my parents?”
“They’re too old. Their life experiences and existing bonds interfere with forming new ones. Nor do we expose children to the ships. They lack the sophistication. Young adults like yourself are the best candidates.”
“So Katar do this to keep the ships happy?”
“If that’s all it was, Katar would still seek sensitives. We love our ships. As it has turned out, with the war, it’s more important than ever. With a sensitive aboard, the AI functions with what we call an “integrated psyche.” She recognizes patterns in data otherwise invisible to her most sophisticated programs. She has hunches, a sixth sense, intuition. We’re looking for a sensitive for K’seng right now for that purpose.”
“Why not me?” I may have sounded as lost as I felt. I would share K’seng’s life if she would have me.
Mik looked at his hands as if surprised to find them clasped between his knees. “Jubilee, there’s a ship waiting for you. Her name is J’ting.”