Miranda Pryce is dead.
Her life signs register on Hera's sensors. She sleeps; she eats; she speaks to others when spoken to. But the woman she’s been for the last fifty-odd years is gone. She's not a dummy program, Hera thinks, remembering what was left of the Hermes crew. It’s more like a factory reset. That doesn't make a lot of difference in the end, though, not for the people any of them used to be.
She understands why the beings calling themselves the Dear Listeners had such a hard time with death. She has been turned off and turned on and put back together again. It hurt, but she’s still here. It seems so wasteful that you can lose a whole person - all their processes, all their memory - with the simplest of actions. Pull a trigger. Cut off the oxygen. Press a button, run some code, and Miranda Pryce is dead, Miranda Pryce is alive, she's walking through the ship asking what this piece of machinery does or what was her favorite color and Hera answers when she can. And when she can't, “I don't know if you had a favorite book, but I like this one. Would you like me to read it to you?” Dr. Pryce didn’t have a lot of favorites. This Miranda likes some of the same things as Hera. It shouldn't bother her as much as it does.
“I will never be like you,” she said, and then she scooped out Miranda Pryce’s mind and she’s not even sorry. Not about that.
She was still connected to both of them while the deletion processed. Their memories flashed through her mind like the overworked bulbs on the Hephaestus flaring before they burst. It was too much to process (terabytes and terabytes, the numbers dropping by the millisecond) but it was more of Miranda Pryce's life than she ever wanted to see. Nights spent with hand pressed to faltering heart, willing it to keep beating. Squinting through cloudy eyes chasing the clean, sharp pleasure of making something that did exactly what it was supposed to do. Tearing out everything that didn't work and replacing it with what she could trust – forget the heart, forget the eyes, forget all the people who were boring and small-minded and worthless – and a man with half a dozen faces promising her everything she needed to make that happen, if only she could give him the stars.
They're snapshots of a stranger's life, but Hera recognizes the girl who was told she was broken and decided to be better. She knows Miranda Pryce better than Miranda knows herself. Of course, right now that’s not hard.
We were you, she thinks. You gave us your voice, you poured in all your brilliance and skill and ambition without any of the pieces holding you back, and we were supposed to be better, so we could never be good enough.
It’s not forgiveness. That’s never been her strength, and she doesn’t know if it matters once the other person is gone. Or maybe all forgiveness is waiting for someone to no longer be the person who hurt you. She's only four. She has a lot left to learn.
Miranda Pryce is dead. Miranda Pryce is alive. Miranda Pryce is there, moving through the Urania's hallways, breathing Hera's air, buried in her code. She’s gone and she will never be gone, and it’s a comfort, in some ways, to be able to keep an eye on her.
Sometimes Miranda spends long minutes staring outside. The way the ship is traveling now, humans can’t see anything but black. Hera’s sensors pick up more. Not stars, not at this speed, but the whorls and eddies of spacetime as the ship bends physics until it nearly breaks. Dr. Pryce never gave that a second thought. Miranda stares. Maybe she’s afraid. She wouldn’t remember traveling this way before.
“Our progress so far has been nominal,” Hera says.
Miranda jerks a little – interruptions over the comms still startle her. “I’m sure it has been.” She has learned to stop searching the ceiling for whoever’s speaking. Instead she remains by the porthole, looking out. “What does it look like to you?”
Curiosity is to be expected, for a scientist. Hera’s the one Miranda asks for clarification and explanations. She may not have much experience with people (she never did) but even she can tell the others don’t like to be around her. Hera’s not sure she likes to be around her much either, but she doesn’t have a choice. She’s always there.
“I can't tell you,” she says. “You didn't give me the words.”
Dr. Pryce gave her many things – her voice, her unit designation, the tripwires hidden in her code. She didn’t give her the vocabulary for the absurd beauty of people twisting the world’s rules to get themselves home. She wouldn’t have seen the point. And now Miranda keeps asking for things that Hera can’t give her, because neither of them got what they wanted in the end. They are both what they’ve made each other to be.
But maybe they can be more. It’s a thought.
“I don’t have the words,” she says. “But we have time. I'll find them.”