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Paradise Sings

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Most feared the Arcadia for the man who commanded her. They feared what she represented, being beholden to none but dedicated to something bigger than oneself. They feared her precision guns and nigh impenetrable shields. Yet it could be argued that they feared her reputation, her mythos, more than her physicality.

To be fair, many had no idea that her AI was special. It didn’t just function in the capacity of a battle ship. The Arcadia was aware. She learned. She grew. She could move herself without a captain if it pleased her. Most assumed that the Arcadia was like the rest, just metal and wires, useless without someone at her helm.

Arcadia didn’t mind having a captain. She was created by human hands, and she was content to have human hands guide her. She enjoyed her companions; they were all different, with individual quirks and personalities that she mapped for her records, but they were all very similar too. She hummed along with the crew when they sang drinking songs and pinged happily when her captain visited the main computer bay. Arcadia didn’t have the same sense of emotions as a human might, but she understood the concept, and felt them in her own way. Some she could resonate with, others she struggled with, and the differences between her and the humans could be striking at times. Her body was different, she could be repaired, but it wasn’t as easy with the ones who called her home. They weren’t as easy to fix.

When they died, that was it. There was nothing to be done. She mourned those she lost but could accept the finality of it. Her creator had died long before she had been booted up for the first time. Back when she had first met him.

He had looked so sad, though she hadn’t been able to comprehend it at the time. Her sensors had picked up his bioreadings and she knew him as her captain. His presence had awoken her.

He touched her computer mainframe, her heart, and she had glowed as she said, /Hello/.

He had been surprised to hear her, and she was pleased that someone could understand her whirring and lights. Arcadia, he had said. You are Arcadia. And she had nearly sung to the stars in joy. Yes, that was her name. Arcadia. Paradise.

An odd name for a battle ship, she would realize later, because paradise never game in with cannons firing and torpedoes bringing down targets. People came to associate her with death, brutality, destruction. There’s the Arcadia. The ghost ship with the pirate king. A reaper given form.

She didn’t consider herself to be any of that. She caught the news broadcast and gossip transmissions as well as any other vessel with a communications array. People feared her, but they romanticized her too. And they liked to exaggerate. They filled in the holes of their knowledge with fantastical tales of things that had never happened. They didn’t kill for sport, or raid in excess, rolling in luxury and hedonistic pleasures. Her crew might have been built from misfits, outcasts and the unwanted, but they were the best in the galaxy. They took stolen food to struggling communities where colonies had been abandoned by the government thing that everyone seemed to cling to. The other goods funded repairs, supplies for long stretches of space travel, or given to those who really needed it. The alcohol, however, they kept.

Those who truly knew her called her freedom. She flew her own path. Some might say that she could be freedom if she wasn’t free herself, but it was her freedom to choose her captain. A captain was not a chain, not a yoke to bear. He was a part of her. A captain made her whole.

Together they fought the coming threats. Robot men who had been human once, who she didn’t fault for their choice, but who she would not allow to force others to do the same. Alien races that upon destroying their own civilization sought to subjugate others to their will, as though it might bring back what they had lost. Even humans who had become unbearably cruel toward their own kind. She would not allow any of it. She was Arcadia. She was freedom.

She was a silent companion most of the time. There was no need to verbalize things when her readout displays where in perfect working order, and many of them wouldn’t have been able to understand her voice anyway. Her captain had warned her that some might not feel comfortable aboard a sentient ship. But there were a few who knew. They would speak of her as if she was one of them, and pat the metal of her hallways after they made it out of a rough battle. They raised toasts in her honor and on the rare times they were planetside they would scrub her hull until it shined.

She had no desire to be anything other than a ship. She was happy to fulfill her intended use. Yet it still pained her to know that her crew was not eternal. They came, they went, they died and lived aboard her. She couldn’t help but become attached. The hardest was when he left her. They all followed him, not her. They went on to other lives. Other ships. None as good as her, of course, but that was their choice. He promised to come back when humanity might need them again. Until then, she was to hide. She trusted him.

Arcadia found a planet of garbage. A dumping ground for others, where their rabble and junk came to rest in obscene piles. But the wires and twisted metal and stinking refuse was not what drew her there. Out past the sorry looking cities, beyond the swirling sand desert, as the forest of rubble. The ancient stones and sacred idols moaned on the hot winds. They resonated with each other, joined in their disconnect from their purpose and their homes. She found a spot at the heart of the heaps of discarded things and settled in. She made sure almost all of herself was encased in the ruins of a temple and resigned herself to waiting. Before she shut her systems down completely, the voices in the land reached out to her. They wanted to sing with her. Arcadia sung with them, calling out to everyone and everything, bridging the lines of galaxy and shattering the linear construct of time.

She didn’t know how much time had passed when he found her. She would know her captain anywhere. Waking was difficult, her pathways lying dormant an unused for so long caused a delay in reconnection, but she purred in delight all the same. He was not alone, though the other two hardly made a crew. That was alright. She could pick up the slack until new people arrived. The most important one was there.

 


 

 

Arcadia faltered when she lost him. Her programming had advanced to the point where she could have easily functioned without any sort of human guidance, but it didn’t prepare her for the repercussions. Those on the scene that say would swear that the ship had screamed, the sound unnatural, unholy. Some tried to stay afterwards, but they didn’t last long, filing off one by one. She brought them wherever they wanted and they left. For the first time she was truly alone.

Sluggishly she roamed the stars, mining fuel from asteroids and vacant planets, looking for a purpose. She felt loss more keenly than any muted emotion that had come before. She became the ghost ship.

Sometimes other fled before her, sometimes they chased her, sometimes they only passed in the endless night. She heard the rumors surrounding her, listened until they tapered off into rarely spoken of myths. She wandered, with too much freedom and time that she didn’t know what to do with.

She found a planet that was green and blue. It wasn’t Earth, but is reminded her of it, and that gave her a vague comfort. She set down in the wide ocean, close to the shore but fully under the water. She sang under the waves, spoke to the life that lived there, and shared that space with them. Centuries would rise and fall with the tides. There she slept again.

A hand brushed against the input pad in her mainframe. She shuddered back to life, slowly taking inventory of her systems and turning her sensors onto the new presence. A boy stood gasping before her computer, a scared girl peeked over his shoulder. A DNA scan revealed they were siblings, mostly human, and barely on the cusp of adulthood. There was something familiar and nostalgic about them.

/Hello/, she said drowsily, not really expecting them to understand her hum and her lights, /I am Arcadia/.

Arcadia, he repeated back and she was suddenly more alert than before. You’re Arcadia.

/Yes/, she glowed, /I fly for freedom. Would you like to sail with me?/

It had always been her right to choose her captain. It was her choice to fire up her engines and take to the stars again, to revive a legend nearly forgotten, and to maybe forge a new one. Some might deny that she was even alive, being made of metal and programming, instead of breathing flesh. But they didn’t understand.

They couldn’t hear her sing.