After seven days in bed, the ship's control interface was trying to rouse him out of it.
“Captain,” said the KIRI. “Your presence is required on the command deck to oversee maintenance operations.”
The voice was sweet, feminine, perfectly modulated. Paul didn't care for it.
“Go away,” he said.
“Captain,” KIRI said. “I must insist.”
“I said get lost."
“Sir. The command module is due for it's regular maintenance check-”
“You don't see how pointless that is?”
“Sir,” KIRI continued. “The captain of the command vessel must oversee the performance of the maintenance operations. The directives are clear.”
“The directives are garbage. This ship is garbage. It's a giant piece of crap floating nowhere in space until it falls apart. There is nothing to check. Do you understand? Now. Fuck Off.”
KIRI fell quiet and Paul shut his eyes.
“Good Morning, Captain,” KIRI's voice said cheerfully. “The in-cabin temperature is a comfortable 24 degrees celsius, and toxic emissions are currently scanning at a safe human range of 3mg/m3 per hour -”
“Go away,” said Paul.
“What would you like for breakfast, Captain?” said KIRI.
“Put it on the table,” said Paul. He was curled up on the bed, facing the wall. He'd been that way for a while. Time was meaningless now.
“I only asked because the last time the drone brought you breakfast, you didn't eat it, nor did you eat it the time before that, or the time before that, or the time before-”
“Can't you be silent?”
“Yes,” says Kiri. “But my bio-medical programming informs me that you are not digesting sufficient nutrients to sustain life, and your life expectancy will be reduced to zero in a matter of-”
"Stop," Paul orders wearily. “Do I outrank you?”
“You are the Captain,” said KIRI.
“Answer the question: Do I outrank you?”
“Yes, Sir,” said KIRI.
“Then I order you to be quiet and leave me alone.”
“Yes, Sir,” said KIRI.
“I feel as if there is something troubling you, Captain,” said KIRI. “Would you like to talk about it?”
“No,” said Paul. His voice came out in a croak.
“I only wish to help you, Captain,” said KIRI.
“You can stop calling me Captain."
“But you are the captain, Captain,” said KIRI.
If he thought the KIRI was even remotely capable it, he'd think she was being funny.
“Neil was the Captain,” said Paul. “I am just a junior officer. Get it?”
“In the event that the captain is killed or incapacitated whilst on duty, the next senior member of the mission takes his place,” says KIRI. “Since you are the only crewman here, that makes you the captain, Captain.”
“You're a ray of sunshine, do you know that?” said Paul.
“Would you like me to entertain you?” said KIRI.
Was it too much to expect it to recognise sarcasm when it heard it?
“I know a nice opera,” KIRI continued. “I can sing and replicate the orchestral arrangement.”
“No, Computer. I don't want to listen to opera. I don't want to listen to your voice,” said Paul. He couldn't yell any more. His throat hurt.
“You wish me to change my vocal synthesis?” said KIRI.
“Whatever,” said Paul. “Just leave me alone.”
His gums were starting to bleed.
“Captain Paul,” said a hesitant voice.
This is new.
“You sound like a child,” Paul whispered.
“I am as I always was,” said KIRI/the child.
“Captain, you haven't eaten breakfast again today,” said KIRI/the child. “Why won't you eat?”
“What's the point?” said Paul.
“Your survival,” said KIRI/the child.
“Like I said, what's the point?”
“There are enough supplies to sustain your life for 20 years, 6 months, and 3 days, if the food stores and hydroponic gardens on this vessel are maintained to optimum levels. I foresee a long life ahead of you yet, Sir. Congratulations!”
“Why are you bothering me? Don't you have anything better to do?”
“Your presence is required on the command deck, Captain.”
“You can take care of everything on this ship without me. Why do you even want me around?”
“To fulfil your duties as Captain,” said KIRI/the child.
“You are such a machine,” said Paul. “Go away now.”
“I have been thinking about your situation,” said KIRI, “and I think that it would be more enjoyable for you to be on the command deck overseeing maintenance operations.”
KIRI was using the female voice again.
Paul didn't answer.
“Sir,” said KIRI. “The command module is overdue for it's regular maintenance check!”
If I ignore it, Paul thought, it may go away.
KIRI started emitting a high-pitched buzzing that hurt his ears.
“Shut up!” croaked Paul.
“You were ignoring me,” said KIRI.
“Why don't you go do the whatever check,” Paul whispered. “I don't care.”
“Sir! Only the Captain can oversee the maintenance check on the command deck,” said KIRI.
“I give you permission,” said Paul. “Go be Captain.”
“I cannot,” said KIRI. “The directives are clear. I cannot take over for the Captain whilst a human is still capable of performing the office.”
“Then I guess you'll have to kill me,” he said.
The drones came for Paul during the night. He tried to fight the robots off, but he was too weak to put up much resistance. Before long they had him strapped helpless to a medical gurney.
He kept struggling as he was rolled into the medical bay.
“You can't do this!” he said. “I outrank you.”
KIRI said, “As medical officer aboard this vessel, I judge that you are at danger of self-harm, and appoint myself as your physician and caretaker until you are fit to take up your duties again.”
“What's the matter? You can't kill me, Bitch?” sneered Paul.
“As your doctor, I am under a directive to Do No Harm,” said KIRI.
Paul struggled as he was put into a life pod and given an anaesthetic.
“This treatment will not hurt,” said KIRI.
“I am the Captain,” said Paul feebly, feeling the soporific take effect.
“You are my patient now,” said KIRI. “I outrank you.”
As he drifted out of consciousness, Paul heard a child's voice telling him not to be afraid, and the rest of the world slowly and quietly blacked out to nothing.
Paul has been alone on the ship for about four and a half years.
The ship is destroyed and has no navigation. It is just drifting, Paul does not know where he is, and in this story outer space is vast and unknowable.
The KIRI is a supercomputer interactive interface that can speak from any part of the ship. The KIRI was manufactured by the Kiriakis Corporation. The model on Paul's ship is the KIRI-AK15. Coincidentally, the initials AK also stand for Adrienne Kiriakis, who is the main voice of the KIRI, although, we learn it can also sound like a child.
When Paul woke up he was in the medical unit, and there was a man sitting in a chair near the end of his bed.
“Hello,” said the stranger. “How are you feeling?”
“Who are you?” said Paul.
Sonny looked to be about Paul's age and around Paul's height, with dark hair, pale skin, and dark eyes.
He said, “I found you in one of the life pods. The equipment said you were healthy, so I pulled you out. Were you ill?”
“I was-” Paul tried to remember, but couldn't.
Paul reached out his hand, and took Sonny's arm. It was human, and warm, and he could feel the hairs on Sonny's forearm under his fingertips.
“How are you even here?” said Paul in wonder.
“Meteor shower,” said Sonny. “The escape pod I was in was damaged and I was able to get away, but I've been drifting for weeks. I think I must have drifted close enough to have been drawn in by your ship's magnetic field.”
Paul couldn't stop staring at him. “You have a sexy voice,” he said. Idiot.
Sonny laughed. “Thank you,” he said. They both stared at each other. Sonny was the first to break eye contact.
“So I was looking around your ship,” he said. “It looks pretty damaged.”
“It is,” said Paul, sadly.
“I thought so,” said Sonny, matter of factly.
“How about yours?”
“The same,” he said. “I'm surprised it made it this far.”
He looks directly into Paul's eyes when he says, “I am not even sure that I could get it to run, if you wanted me to leave.”
“I don't want you to go,” said Paul. “You should stay. Please.”
Sonny came into the medical bay several times to eat with him and talk to him.
That evening he said, “When you're feeling better, you should probably take a look at the systems up on the crew deck.”
Paul said, “Oh God. Don't tell me she's got to you, too.”
“Who?” said Sonny.
“The KIRI interface. She's not giving you a hard time is she?” said Paul.
“I didn't know you had one,” said Sonny. “I haven't heard a peep.”
“She hasn't spoken to you?” said Paul.
Sonny shook his head.
“You should be careful of her,” said Paul. “She could be up to something.”
“No, I mean it. This one is a bit strange. You know how you found me in the life pod? The thing is, I can't actually remember going in there.”
“Did you hurt yourself? Hit your head?” asked Sonny.
“Maybe,” he hedged.
“Which model KIRI is it?” said Sonny. “I know quite a bit about the older models.”
“Really ?” said Sonny, excitedly. “I had one of those as a babysitter from when I was five to fifteen. She sounded exactly my mother. When I was a little kid, I always used to ignore it's instructions, so my father had the bright idea of programming my mother's voice into it. I always did what it said after that. My uncle Vic programmed her voice into all the KIRIs we had after that.”
“You can't trust her,” said Paul.
“Paul,” said Sonny softly. “I'm sure it will be all right.”
“I'm not,” said Paul. “I think it would be better if you slept in here, and aren't left alone with her until I'm up and about again.”
“Would it?” said Sonny.
“Yes,” said Paul.
Paul awoke several times during the night.
He looked at the cot next to his to reassure himself that Sonny was still there. He could see the outline of Sonny's shoulders and head against the blue night lights in the sleeping chamber, and he could hear Sonny's deep breathing.
He let himself fall asleep again.
When Paul awoke in the morning, Sonny was gone.
He sat up in bed too quickly and was slammed by a wave of dizziness. He collapsed weakly back onto the bed.
“KIRI!” he called.
“Hello Captain,” said KIRI.
“Where is Sonny?"
KIRI said nothing.
“Answer me,” he said. “What have you done with him?”
KIRI said, “I do not understand the question.”
At that moment, Sonny came into the sleeping chamber.
“Hey, you're up,” he said.
When he saw Paul's strained face, he approached him.
“What's the matter? Are you sick?” He touched Paul's forehead, feeling for his temperature.
Paul grabbed his hand. It was warm and solid.
“You were gone,” said Paul. He kept hold of Sonny's hand.
“I'm here now,” said Sonny.
“The ship's computer couldn't find you,” he said. “Where were you?”
“I was having breakfast, and a shower.”
When Paul struggled to sit up, Sonny said, “Hey, take it easy. You're as white as a sheet.”
He helped Paul up and settled him on a pile of pillows. “Did you have your breakfast? The drones left it on the side table for you this morning.”
“I haven't eaten yet,” said Paul.
“I had to go out and get mine,” said Sonny darkly. “I don't qualify for the gold star room service, it seems.”
Paul took hold of Sonny's hand. He said to the room, “KIRI, this is Sonny.”
Sonny looked at Paul curiously and stared at their linked hands.
KIRI remained silent.
Sonny said dubiously, “Um, is she talking to you now?”
Paul side-eyed him and repeated, “KIRI. This is Sonny. Acknowledge.”
“I do not understand the request,” said KIRI.
“Wow,” said Sonny.
Paul said, “KIRI, I promote Sonny to a member of the crew. Acknowledge.”
KIRI said, “Son-ny is not a member of the crew.”
“Snubbed,” said Sonny.
Paul said, “See if you can get her to talk to you.”
“All right. Hi, Mom,” Sonny said brightly. “How's tricks?”
Paul shook his head. “Be serious.”
Sonny smiled back at him. It was a beautiful smile.
They tried to get the KIRI to talk to Sonny a few more times after that, but it wouldn't. Paul was concerned.
He didn't trust her.
When Paul was strong enough, he left the medical bay to go up to the command deck with Sonny.
“Good morning, Captain,” said KIRI.
“Hello KIRI,” said Paul. “Say hello to Sonny.”
“Hello to Son-ny,” said KIRI.
Sonny was staring at the operating panels with interest.
“Is everything okay?” said Paul.
Sonny looked at him and smiled. “I only got as far as the crew deck before. This is amazing.”
Paul sat in the captain's chair and pushed a few buttons. The command centre monitor lit up and showed the forward view on the far wall. It was like a big window looking into space.
“It's beautiful,” said Sonny.
“It's a big black screen with a few specks of white and the occasional meteor whizzing past,” said Paul. He'd seen it before. He'd had four years of it.
“It's space,” said Sonny, taking it in.
Paul watched Sonny instead.
“Would you like to sit on the command chair?” he said.
Sonny said yes.
Paul said, “What was your mission, before your spaceship crashed?”
“I was mountain gliding,” he said, staring out into the blackness. “Mapping the landscape.”
“Where?” said Paul. “There are no planetoids in the area.”
Sonny said, “This is a terraforming vehicle isn't it? You were looking for inhabitable planets to cultivate? Did you find any?”
“The first ships in the fleet did,” said Paul. “But ours went out farther. Our ship was knocked off course by an explosion in the rear of the ship. We weren't able to regain navigation function. We've been floating for four years.”
“We?” asked Sonny.
“Me and the ship,” said Paul.
“I'm so sorry,” said Sonny.
He got out of the command chair and hugged Paul. Paul melted against him, fitting his chin over Sonny's shoulder, and wrapping his arms around him. He could feel Sonny softly rubbing his back and hear him making soothing noises. After four years Paul never thought he would feel the touch of another human again.
He was aware of everything about Sonny. The warmth of the body against his. The tickle of Sonny's hair against his cheek. The way Sonny's chest expanded and contracted when he breathed in and out. The pressure of Sonny's hands stroking his back.
When a tear rolled off his chin, Paul was surprised, because he didn't even realise that he had been crying.
Sonny spent a lot of time in the ship's green suites, staring with wonder at the vast glass forest of columns stretching into the distance. Each one was programmed with a customised climate for the plant it contained.
Paul found him there, staring at a coconut palm.
Sonny said, "I wonder if it's aware that it isn't on the beach anymore, but floating out in a ship in deepest space in the middle of nowhere. Does the light feel different to real sunlight? Does the soil feel real? Or is it so used to living in a jar that it can't tell the difference anymore?"
"I think it's been cultivated for living on a spaceship," says Paul looking at it's height, and the abundance of fruit on it. "It has probably never been on a real beach, or felt the real sun."
"Poor little fake palm tree," said Sonny, touching his hand against the warm terrarium glass.
There were rows and rows of plants built into vertical sections of the wall of the hydroponics rooms. Tubes of water and plant nutrients ran through small tubes up and down the levels of the green suite, feeding the plants. Every ten minutes there was a small hiss, and a fine mist of water sprayed over them.
The first time it happened Sonny had started in surprise and laughed.
Paul had lost his interest in the plants a long time ago, but watching Sonny discover them for the first time … he would never get tired of that.
On the way out of the green suites, they walked past the darkened airlocks leading towards the cargo and landing bays.
Paul's steps quickened as he passed the sealed off areas of the damaged space ship.
He felt Sonny watching him but Sonny made no comment, instead matching his pace by taking longer quicker strides.
In a moment they were back on the crew deck that housed the medical suite.
"This is my room," said Paul, pointing at one door, and nodding at the rest. "Those are the others'."
Sonny looked over at the closed doors.
"Um," said Paul, standing outside his door. "Did you want to see my room?"
Sonny nodded and Paul stood aside so Sonny could walk in and look around.
Paul sat on the lower bunk of the bed watching him.
"This is where I usually sleep," he said. "The closet is over there in that wall."
Sonny crawled behind him and lay down on the bed, staring at the bottom of the bunk above.
Paul's heartbeat quickened.
He lay back next to him.
Sonny was staring at one of Paul's photographs, taped to the underside of the top bunk. It was one with Paul and his mother in it. Paul's arm was around her shoulders and he was wearing a baseball uniform.
Sonny said, "I meant to ask you something. Sorry, but this is a bit awkward."
"What is it?"
"I was just wondering if you have any spare clothes that I could wear?" said Sonny.
"Uh, yeah," said Paul. "You can have some of mine. I'm only sorry I didn't think of it first."
Paul said, "If you had anything in your space pod, we could put on our spacesuits and go out to the landing strip-"
"No," interrupted Sonny. "There is nothing to go back for there."
"You're sure?" said Paul.
"Yes. I'm sorry," said Sonny.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," said Paul.
Paul pulled some pants from the closet and shirts from a drawer.
Sonny saw Paul's home-run baseball roll forward in the drawer and said, "Oh my God, I am such an idiot. You're that Paul Narita. You're the Billion Dollar Arm."
Paul told Sonny about his career as a baseball pitcher and Paul learnt that Sonny was one of the Kiriakises of Kiriakis Corporation fame, (although Sonny said he'd never worked at his Uncle Victor's robotics company).
When Sonny had told him that his uncle Victor had changed all their Kiri interfaces to his mother's voice, he hadn't meant the few his family had owned; he'd meant the thousands that had rolled off the production line that year.
"So you're saying that the Kiri actually sounds like your real mother?" said Paul, disbelievingly.
"I told you that before," said Sonny.
"I thought you were joking," he said.
Over the weeks that followed Sonny would disappear at odd times in the day (usually when Paul was sleeping), and Paul would not know where he was.
He asked the Kiri to identify his location, but all she said was, "I do not understand the question."
He tried asking Kiri the same question in different ways. He asked Kiri to identify heat signatures, life forms, moving objects, but it was as if, to Kiri, Sonny did not exist.
Paul no longer thought that Kiri would harm Sonny. It genuinely seemed as if the computer did not know that Sonny was there at all.
He wondered if this meant that the Kiri was somehow broken. It had been a very long time since she'd last asked him to perform a maintenance check on the command deck.
In the weeks that followed, Paul celebrated Christmas with Sonny - or it was more correct to say that Sonny celebrated Christmas with Paul, because Paul did not realise what day it was.
Sonny plucked small sphere lights from the medical bay and placed them along the corridor like rows of fairy lights, and he made sprays of holly out of the dried seaweed-like leaves from plants in the terrariums.
Sonny didn't have a present for Paul, but Paul gave Sonny his baseball.
Sonny said, "I can't take this, it's your home run ball."
"I want you to have it," said Paul. "Please."
They spent the whole day in each other's company.
Paul taught Sonny how to throw fast balls down the long corridors and Sonny laughed every time one of his throws went ricocheting crazily off the walls.
After dinner they carried their mattresses and blankets to the command deck so they could lay down in front of the viewer screen and watch the distant stars blink in the dark sky as the Kiri played Christmas carols. Sonny talked about his crazy twin brothers, his grumpy Uncle Victor, his parents' happiness for him when he first told them that he was gay.
Paul told him about learning to play baseball from his grandfather, learning about his Japanese heritage from his mother, and being scouted out of university for the major leagues.
It was perfect.
Sonny struggled to stay awake for as long as he could, and Paul saw him try to hide his yawns. His eyelids flickered and finally closed.
Paul didn't want to sleep.
He didn't want the day to end.
"Good morning Captain," said Kiri.
"Good morning, Kiri," said Paul. He was surprised to realise that he meant it.
Sonny had left a note for him, telling him that he would be in the garden. Paul read it and put it in his pocket.
He returned to his quarters and began dressing for the day. He took a little more care than usual, choosing a dark blue t-shirt that he thought looked better on him than his others, and trimming his hair until it it was neat and straight and sat up from his forehead in a small peak.
The drones had left his breakfast sitting on his bedroom table. He took it with him as he headed towards the green suites, stopping at the food dispenser to take an extra plate of food, and a cup of coffee to Sonny.
Sonny expressed his gratitude for the coffee, and they sat down together to eat.
Paul asked, "What is it about these trees that you find so fascinating? You're always here."
"They're so strange and so unexpected," said Sonny. "And they're on a spaceship. I think I just found a banana tree. How did you ever think to put a banana tree on a spaceship? This whole ship is fantastic."
"The ship is all right, but it's a bit of a wreck," said Paul. "And the banana tree was already here when I arrived."
"Have you ever wondered," said Sonny, "why this ship has such long wide corridors?"
He didn't give Paul time to answer.
"What's underneath this deck?"
"Engineering," said Paul. "Since you don't think much of long corridors, you'd love it. It's fully automated, so the only human access ways are narrow galley bridges, small porthole doors, and ladder rungs on the walls."
"I would like to see it," said Sonny.
"You'll need your spacesuit," said Paul. "It's sealed off so the air can be circulated into the living areas of the ship."
"Some other time, then," said Sonny, relaxing.
They stayed like that, sitting together quietly for a while.
"I liked yesterday," said Paul.
Sonny smiled. "Me, too."
After Paul finished breakfast he invited Sonny to the training room. It was fitted with bars and pulleys, weight training equipment, and a treadmill.
"You have your own gym here," said Sonny.
They worked out for a while, Sonny grumbling about the equipment being set for gym jockeys, whilst Paul lifted weights seemingly effortlessly. (Admittedly, he was showing off a little bit).
He thought Sonny might have been looking at him once or twice, but when he turned around Sonny was fiddling with the settings on the treadmill.
They each had steam showers and afterwards Sonny asked Paul if he wanted to go upstairs with him to watch TV.
"The correct term is the Navigational Viewing Screen," said Paul.
"It's a super-wide flat screen TV," said Sonny. "Does the Kiri have any movies?"
Paul found a tablet and pulled up the playlist to show Sonny.
Sonny looked at Paul's favourites list and said, "There is an awful lot of gay porn here." He was trying not to laugh.
Paul snatched the list back.
"That's not mine, " Paul said. "It was the guys." Paul was sure the medical officer had been the one to put gay porn on Paul's favourites list. Brian always used to call him Boy Scout.
Paul flicked a hand over the tablet and edited it, and handed it back to Sonny.
"I wasn't saying it as if it was a bad thing," said Sonny.
Sonny looked at the newly edited list and sighed.
They watched movies all night on the command deck, but Sonny finally said he was tired and went back to his bed in the medical suite.
Paul was disappointed that he didn't stay.
Since Sonny had come on the ship, everything had changed for Paul and he'd felt excitement and hope stirring for the first time since his ship had been damaged.
But Sonny's presence also made him feel anxious and uncertain, as if he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Deep down Paul wasn't convinced this could last, or that his luck could be this good. Sonny's presence here was too good to be true.
He knew that there were questions that he needed to ask Sonny. About how he'd come to be here, in the middle of nowhere in an escape pod. But, when Sonny was there, staring at him with his serious dark eyes, he forgot all of the questions that he wanted to ask Sonny, except one.
Do you like me?
But he never had the courage to ask.
He awoke late in the night.
He knew it was late because the lights in the command centre had dimmed from a soft pink, to a dull glowing blue.
Sonny wasn't there, and Paul squashed the sense of anxiety he usually felt at not seeing him, until it was reduced to a small quiet knot of unease in the back of his mind.
From the corridors below he heard a dull thumping sound.
Paul got up and walked down to the crew deck. The Christmas lights were still set along the walkway, brightening his path.
The sound started again, and Paul recognised it for the sound of a ball being bounced off a wall.
Pause. (Catch, Throw).
"Sonny?" said Paul quietly.
There was silence, then the tap of light quick footsteps running away from him.
Paul hurried along the crew deck, passing the closed crew quarters.
A loud crack and the tinkling of broken glass came from the green suites.
As he hurried past the dark portals of the damaged airlocks, they seemed even more ominous than usual: fathomless black holes in the blue-hued darkness. Sonny's Christmas lights did not reach here.
He was just in time to catch sight of a small dark shape flitting between the glass terrarium walls.
"Sonny?" he said, uncertainly.
There was a series of small muffled thumps and a small white object bounced out of the terrarium, and rolled towards him.
Paul stopped it with his foot.
It was his home run baseball.
Paul searched the green suites, but Sonny wasn't there.
He inspected the terrariums for the source of the shattered glass.
He found a broken panel in a glass terrarium, and a series of cracks fanning out from the hole that spread to base of the column.
A coconut palm frond stretched out through the newly made hole.
Paul went back to the crew deck and saw Sonny close the door to Neil's quarters.
When he turned around, he looked surprised to see Paul.
"Hey," Sonny said, smiling.
When he got a closer look at Paul's face, he said, "What's wrong?"
Paul said, "Where were you just now?"
"Why? What happened?"
"Someone broke the terrarium with the Palm tree in it," said Paul.
"It's broken?" said Sonny.
"We're the only ones here," said Paul.
"There's the drones-," said Sonny.
"It was smashed with this baseball." Paul pulled out Sonny's hand and placed the home-run ball in it, curling Sonny's fingers around it. "And I saw someone running through the terrarium. Last time I looked the drones can't throw baseballs, and they don't move like people. Sonny, what's going on?"
"I don't know," said Sonny, perplexed. "What exactly happened?"
Paul told him, and Sonny looked uncertain.
"What is it?" said Paul.
"This may be nothing," said Sonny. "But when I was young, my mom said I used to sleep walk. She said I used to play sports - you know shoot hoops, bat balls around, that sort of thing, as if I was awake."
"Do you think you're sleepwalking again?"
"I don't remember," said Sonny. He looked concerned.
Paul stayed with Sonny for the rest of the night.
When the lights in the medical suite turned pink, then white, Paul noticed that Sonny was still awake.
Paul didn't sleep very well either.
He was starting to doubt what he'd seen. He'd thought the figure had been too small to be Sonny, and when he'd searched the green suite, he hadn't heard or seen Sonny go past him to get to the crew deck.
But what he wondered about most was what Sonny had been doing in Neil's quarters, in the middle of the night, when he thought that Paul was asleep.
In the way that people will try to stop themselves thinking about an unpleasant memory, Paul tried to stop thinking about how Sonny got here, but suspicions kept rising to the surface, like bubbles forming on the smooth clear surface of a lake.
Sonny had said that he had been mapping terrain in a mountain glider. Gliders and other small to medium sized spaceships were fitted with finite drives; they were incapable of creating their own energy source, and their size meant that they didn't have the fuel capacity for long-distance travel.
Paul's ship was a terraforming vehicle, purpose built for long distance space travel. When the engines and drives were working it could create it's own energy source and power itself for decades.
Paul's vehicle had started at a remote outpost and drifted for 4 years in uncharted space.
Sonny said he had detached his pod from his mountain glider and floated in space for three weeks.
It was impossible for Sonny to be here.
Sonny was lying to him.
Neil's quarters were almost the same as Paul had left them, but the air was staler and colder than he remembered, and the drones had obviously been there, stripping the bedsheets and blankets from the bed. Neil's personal effects still remained.
Paul felt a chill in the air, part temperature and part warning, as if he was trespassing somewhere he shouldn't be.
Danger, Danger, Will Robinson.
He chased down the feeling of unease and went about his check of the room's contents, searching for some small reason for Sonny's presence here. Something to explain the look of surprised shock that he had read on Sonny's face when Paul had surprised him in the corridor, before Sonny recovered with a friendly greeting.
He went through Neil's family photographs, displayed on the bedside table, then through the belongings in the top drawer. In it he found Neil's chess set.
Whilst Paul carefully deliberated on his next move, Neil leaned back, relaxed and unconcerned, on a pile of pillows. He pretended to yawn, loudly, and Paul caught him making several overt glances at his wristwatch.
"I know what you're doing," Paul said.
"I'm only going to make this move when I'm good and ready," said Paul.
Neil grinned and lay back on his bank of pillows.
"Sounds like there's time get in a nap in, then," he said, closing his eyes.
When Paul had met him, Neil had been wearing his spacesuit and joking around with Derrick, the supplies officer. At the time, Paul hadn't even realised that he was the captain.
But Neil was like that - easygoing and relaxed until something needed to be done - then he became brisk and efficient. Paul had liked him immediately. Aboard the spaceship, Neil was the one who had melded the different personalities on the ship together into a crew. He was their cheerleader and peacemaker.
Paul missed him.
He was wrong to have come back here. There was nothing here but ghosts.
He took one last look around the room.
Amongst the certificates on Neil's wall there had been a framed picture that Neil had taken of the whole crew, standing together and smiling. Paul thought he might take it with him. He looked for it on the wall, but it was not there now.
He searched Neil's desk, and the sealed boxes of personal effects in the alcove above the wardrobe.
He gave Neil's clothing drawer a cursory look, and in the bottom-most drawer his hand felt something hard and metallic. It was the picture frame that he remembered, but the photo of the crew was no longer in it.
Paul thought he would find Sonny in the green suites again.
He avoided looking at the darkened airlocks along the way, humming the national anthem under his breath, until he stood in the light-flooded terrarium.
He could see Sonny through the forest of glass cylinders. He was standing so still, he hardly appeared to be moving at all.
As Paul came closer, he said uncertainly, "Sonny?"
Very slowly Sonny turned. He looked lost for a moment.
"Sonny?" said Paul again.
"Paul!" Sonny said. "I had an idea about these trees. See the ones along the end? How they're shorter than the others? I think they're not getting enough light."
Ask him about the photograph.
"We could move the trees into the middle - into the walkway - and they'd grow more fruit. Then we could plant a few more," said Sonny. "Maybe, I don't know, six more? Don't you think?"
Paul jogged his arm to get his attention. Sonny turned to look at him.
"More food for the same energy footprint? It's a nice idea, but where would we walk?" Paul said.
Sonny said, "Around the edges, where it's darkest - with two half size trails in a semicircle, bisecting the garden. I mean, it's not as if we need that much space."
"Maybe you don't," said Paul. "But I work out."
Sonny looked at Paul's arms and tried to hide his smile.
"You are just going to have to crab walk," Sonny said.
Paul took hold of Sonny's hand.
Sonny stared at their linked hands and went suddenly still and quiet.
"Do you like me?" Paul asked.
Afterwards, it occurred to him that maybe his question should have been a little more specifically worded.
After all, "like" can mean a variety of things.
Maybe Sonny had only meant "yes" in a "of course I like you, buddy, you're ok!" sort of way.
But of course Paul had gotten so caught up in his own feelings that he taken Sonny's reply as the response to his unasked question: Do you like me - in the way that I like you?
It turns out that Sonny liked Paul quite a bit.
Sonny flattened Paul against the wall, trapping their bodies together. He wrapped his arms around Paul's neck and dragged Paul's lips to meet his in a long kiss.
Paul wrapped his hands around Sonny's jaw and took control of the embrace; tilting Sonny's head and crushing their lips together. He flipped their positions and crushed Sonny against the wall. There was a thunk as the back of Sonny's skull hit the wall.
No, no, no. Stupid!
He broke off the kiss.
"No," said Sonny breathily. "Don't stop." He frantically tried to draw Paul back.
Sonny's kiss stole the remainder of his words. Paul groaned deep in his throat and Sonny finally broke for air, sliding his lips along the side of Paul's neck, panting.
"Dear God," Paul said, tightening his arms around Sonny.
Sonny laughed shakily.
"Paul," said Sonny. "Did you want to - you know -"
"God, yes," said Paul, taking Sonny's hand and practically running him up to his quarters. Sonny was laughing breathlessly, trying to keep up, as they passed the darkened corridor.
This time Paul didn't even flinch as he went past, aware only of Sonny and the feeling of Sonny's warm hand beating in his.
Afterwards, as they lay side by side on the bed, Sonny turned his head on his pillow and looked across at Paul. He smiled.
It was the kind of smile that could break a thousand hearts.
Paul couldn't help it. He smiled back.
That made Sonny roll on his side, and prop his head on his elbow, staring at Paul. He reached out a hand and gently stroked Paul's face.
"How are you even real?" Sonny whispered.
They were in Paul's quarters, sharing his bed. It was a narrow one-man bed with a bunk overhead. Sonny was pressed against his side, and Paul's shoulder was squashed against the wall.
"Sonny ..." said Paul.
"Mmm?" said Sonny, absently tracing small circles around Paul's nipple with his index finger. Sonny, Paul had noticed, was rarely ever completely still.
"What were you doing in Neil's cabin the other night?"
"Which night?" Sonny asked.
"That night after Christmas. I told you that the plant terrarium was broken, and you were coming out of Neil's quarters."
"Was I?" Sonny's finger kept it's distracting whorl of movement over Paul's chest. Paul flattened it with his own hand.
"You were," said Paul, adamantly. "What were you doing there?"
Sonny said, "I wanted to see the Captain's cabin."
"Why didn't you ask me to show you?"
"You were asleep."
"You could have woken me," said Paul.
"Why would I? You look so peaceful when you're sleeping," Sonny snuggled up against his side and wrapped his arm around Paul's torso. "It wasn't important, anyway."
"Tell me?" said Paul.
Sonny sighed. "I wanted to see whether it was a single or a double."
Paul looked a question at him.
"All the other rooms are bunk beds, you see," said Sonny.
"You want to sleep in the captain's cabin?"
"No," said Sonny. "I like this. It's more cosy." Sonny laid his head down on Paul's chest.
They stayed like that for a while.
"Sonny?" said Paul. "When you were in Neil's room, did you see a photo of the crew there?"
Sonny didn't answer.
The only noise coming from Sonny was the soft gentle puff of his breathing.
He was asleep.
Elements of horror in this chapter. Paul goes wandering at night.
Paul was awoken by the bang-thump of the baseball during the night.
He was alone in his bed and the night floor lights shone with a dull-hued blue.
He drifted down the corridor quietly, careful not to shout or wake Sonny if he turned out to be sleep-walking. He followed the noise of the ball.
His foot dislodged one of the medical sphere lights that Sonny had placed there at Christmas and it went rolling loudly down the corridor.
The banging stopped.
Paul waited a minute for the banging to start up again, but it was quiet.
"Sonny?" called Paul quietly.
A small sharp click sounded from up ahead. He thought it came from one of the other crewmen's quarters.
"Sonny?" Paul approached the door and it opened, setting off the room's lights. The room was similar to Paul's quarters but larger, and a flipped mirror image with two separate beds and no bunks, just overhead storage.
Derrick had invited him back to his shared room. This was the first time that Paul had ever agreed. He started to wonder if it was a good idea when he saw the pin-board of near-naked men on Derrick's side of the room.
"They're my fans," said Derrick. "You know, Space Groupies."
"You have space groupies?" said Paul, incredulously.
"Don't you?" said Derrick.
Absently, Paul found himself looking at one of the photos more closely. Oh my God, was that man doing what Paul thought he was doing? Paul straightened up and looked away.
"Are you blushing?" said Derrick, suddenly moving in very close.
"No," said Paul, backing away.
"I think you are."
Paul moved to the other side of the room. This side was more sparsely decorated, and much tidier. There was a medical text book on the table, and a small black leather-bound journal with a picture poking out from between the pages. He was about to pick it up and look inside it, when Derrick spoke.
"Don't do that," said Derrick. "He gets mad if anybody touches his stuff."
Bang-thump. The sound came from down the passageway.
Paul flicked off the light and exited the room.
"You know, I should go back to sleep and leave you out here to bounce your ball," said Paul, not bothering to whisper any more. It was an idle threat. What if Sonny accidentally hurt himself, sleep-walking? It was Paul's responsibility to take care of him, now.
He was starting to feel a chill in the corridor but he knew that it was only his imagination; the ship was temperature-controlled by the Kiri. But that's what happens when you hang out with ghosts. You get cold spots.
Paul skirted past the darkened air-locks.
There was a loud knock, to his right, and Paul jumped.
It was coming from inside the air lock.
The port-handle turned a quarter turn, then jiggled back.
Paul stared. He could see nothing but dark behind the porthole glass.
"Sonny?" he said, hesitantly.
What if Sonny had sleep-walked into one of the airlocks with no spacesuit? He might open the wrong door by accident - the one leading to the damaged areas of the ship. There was no air there. He could die.
Paul tried the airlock door but it didn't open. He banged on it, increasingly desperately.
"Sonny!" he cried out, pounding on it. "Sonny!"
He had to wake him up.
From within the airlock a hand slapped the porthole glass and it made Paul jump back in shock.
Paul stared at it and suddenly Derrick's face appeared behind it, covered in blood. He started silently screaming. Paul watched in horrified silence as Derrick was caught in a bright explosion of orange light and was sucked through a hole into airless space.
The airlock porthole was black and dark again, and all Paul could see was his own shocked reflection, but in his mind, he kept imagining Derrick's startled, blood covered face, staring back at him.
He was shaking.
He sank to his knees.
"Paul!" Sonny came running. "Kiri, turn on the lights."
"Paul, tell Kiri to turn on the lights!" said Sonny urgently.
"Lights," Paul croaked. "Kiri, lights."
"Yes Captain," said the Kiri, and the deck started to glow a soft pink.
"Where are you hurt?" says Sonny. "Tell me what happened." He started touching Paul everywhere, checking for injuries.
Paul didn't stop him.
Paul started to shiver and he couldn't stop. Suddenly the endless dark was too much and the porthole loomed above him, the source of all his nightmares.
"Kiri, Emergency lights, now!," said Paul, and instantly the deck was bathed with a strong white light. For a moment Paul couldn't see anything but bright white.
Then his eyes adjusted and a dark shape began to form in front of him, bleeding out into the white.
It resolved into Sonny, staring at him with concern.
Paul was sitting on the bed in his quarters and Sonny was hugging him. Paul was trailing his hands up and down Sonny's back. Aimlessly, they would move and then hover, unsure of where to stop, then move again, tracing meandering pathways over the skin on Sonny's back and arms.
Sonny's lips were soft and gentle on his collarbone, and his breath smelled like cinnamon toast.
"Ssh," said Sonny softly between kisses. "Everything's all right, Paul. Everything's okay."
Sonny eased Paul back onto the mattress. He slipped under the covers with him and stayed with him for the rest of the night, holding him until he eventually he fell asleep.
Sonny asked Paul what had happened in the airlock, but Paul wouldn't - couldn't - talk about it. Instead he stayed in his quarters as if he was sick - and maybe he was. He felt jittery and unsettled, and he couldn't make himself go out into the corridor or get out of bed.
After Paul's freak-out, Sonny insisted that he get plenty of bed-rest. He returned to the room throughout the morning to check on Paul. He brought him his meals and fussed around him - which drove Paul a little crazy - but he endured the poking and prodding patiently whilst Sonny took his temperature on the portable scanner, twice, frowning each time.
"That's enough," said Paul, pulling his head away when Sonny tried to take it a third time.
Sonny gave him a long, serious look. Paul sighed and poked out his tongue whilst Sonny took his temperature, again.
Sonny scowled at the scanner.
"Am I going to live?" Paul said.
"This stupid scanner doesn't work," said Sonny. "There are no readings on it." He rapped it with the flat of his palm a few times but gave up when the device remained unresponsive.
He placed his palm against Paul's forehead.
Paul stared up at Sonny, and there it was again, that strange tightness in his chest he always felt when Sonny was there, as if his heart was racing and there wasn't enough oxygen in the room. When Sonny touched his forehead, he leaned in so close that Paul thought he could count each individual eyelash.
"You feel kind of hot," said Sonny. "That might mean you have a temperature. Unless your forehead is usually this warm?"
"So, to be clear, you're not sure if I'm hot or not?" said Paul.
When Sonny didn't crack a smile as expected, he said, "Sonny, I'm fine. Really."
Sonny looked doubtful.
Paul said, "I can think of a way that you could make me feel much, much better." He wrapped his arms around Sonny's waist, dragging Sonny on top of him. Smooth.
"Paul," Sonny said, struggling to sit up. "This is serious."
Paul kept his arms around Sonny, pinning Sonny on top of him. He trailed soft feather-light kisses down Sonny's neck. Sonny started to relax, sagging against him.
"Stay," said Paul. "I'll let you play doctor."
He peppered kisses along Sonny's jawbone and teased the corner of Sonny's mouth with his lips, trying to tempt him into a kiss.
"I was worried about you," said Sonny, holding on to his grievance.
"I know," Paul said. "But I'm okay."
He snaked his hands under Sonny's t-shirt and gently stroked Sonny's back from the base of his neck to the curve of his lower back. Sonny laid his cheek against Paul's chest.
"When I found you last night-" said Sonny.
"Shhh," said Paul, stroking Sonny's back. "Everything's all right."
Paul rolled them until he was on top, capturing Sonny's lips in a lingering kiss. When they moved apart for air, Paul pulled at the hem of Sonny's shirt, tugging it over his head.
"I still don't know what happened," said Sonny. "You won't tell me."
"Welcome to my world," said Paul, pulling off his own shirt.
"What do you mean-"
Paul silenced him with a kiss.
He stroked his hand from Sonny's chest to his waist, and trailed soft, deliberate kisses along the path. Sonny breathed jaggedly beneath him, staring back at him with dark, soft-focused eyes.
Paul unsnapped the fastening on Sonny's jeans and tugged down the zipper.
"Paul, wait," Sonny said, stilling the progress of Paul's hands. "I have to ask-"
"Sonny," said Paul, desperately. "Do you really want to talk, right now?"
Sonny looked conflicted.
Paul drew him closer, rubbing against him.
Sonny said, "What did you mean, 'welcome to my world'?"
"It was just a random comment, okay? Forget I said it."
"I can't," said Sonny."Because you won't be honest with me."
Paul took his arm from around Sonny's waist and they stared at each other.
Paul was the first to break eye contact. He flopped on his back, breathing heavily, staring blindly at the white bunk above him.
He said, "I think I'd like to be alone for a while."
He could feel Sonny's eyes on him, and he thought, at one point, that Sonny was going to say something, but Sonny just dressed quietly and left.
In the command module, Paul couldn't get the argument out of his head and said, "Kiri, scan the ship for life forms and find Sonny."
"Captain, there are 575 identified life forms aboard the ship."
Paul sighed. "Did you include the plants in that?"
"Kiri, please scan the ship for human life forms."
"There is one human life form aboard this ship," said the Kiri.
"Is it me?"
Paul sighed again. "Are there any sectors of the ship unaccounted for by the scanners?"
"Scanner operation is unavailable in the engineering, the landing bays and the damaged fuselage."
"So if anything or anyone was in there you would not know?" said Paul.
Paul kept thinking about Sonny's sleepwalking. He'd convinced himself that Sonny's story was true but after each incident, he'd found him - or seen him come from - the opposite direction to the noises he'd heard. Maybe he'd been too distracted to see Sonny pass him the first time, but the second time, Paul hadn't seen Sonny move past him in the corridor. Assuming that Sonny had ever been in the green suites that night at all.
Paul took the Captain's chair and leant back, closing his eyes.
"Is everything all right, Captain?" asked Kiri. "Would you like to talk about it?"
"I take it this is your social program in action?" said Paul.
"I am your Kiri," said the Kiri, "and I care."
Paul sighed again.
After a while Paul said, "Kiri, what does the maintenance check do?"
"The maintenance check scans all systems for anomalies and cleans up archived or corrupted data files in the memory drives, restoring the ship's operations to optimum performance levels," said the Kiri.
"Is it safe to perform, given the damaged nature of the ship?"
"The maintenance check does not affect essential operations aboard the ship. It scans for performance and security issues and reports them. Whilst maintenance operations are taking place the essential operations are still performed by the Kiri in another sector of the drive."
"Go ahead and do the scan," said Paul.
"The Captain's authorisation code is required," said the Kiri.
Paul had never been told the code. It was not as if he had ever acted as captain whilst the ship was fully functional - he'd been a lowly junior officer. He did, however, know where to find it. Paul flipped up the arm rest and found a series of letters and numbers taped to the underside. Neil had been a good Captain and decision-maker, but he wasn't exactly a rocket scientist; Paul had seen him refer to the code more than once in his presence.
He read the numbers aloud.
"Scan commencing," said the Kiri.
Paul was woken up hours later when the Kiri said, "Scan complete."
Kiri started to read out a technical scan of system fixes that Paul could barely understand.
"Can you just skip all that? Are there any repairs needed?"
"Minor repairs to the communications systems," said the Kiri. "They would not affect the essential systems. There was something else, Captain. An executable file has managed to get past the firewalls and gain access to the Kiri system files. Would you like me to attempt to quarantine it?"
"Is it a virus?"
"No, Captain. It identifies itself as a Kiri-system medical program. It is attempting to integrate and share information with your Kiri."
Paul sat up and said, "You said it breeched your firewall to get in? It's source is external?"
Kiri said, "It originates from a secondary Kiri interface."
An explanation came to Paul after a minute.
"It's the interface in Sonny's shuttlecraft! It might still be active."
Kiri said, "What would you like me to do, Captain?"
Paul said, "Can you prohibit access to our essential systems?"
"Yes, Captain," said the Kiri.
"Do it," said Paul. "Can you identify the program's function? Is it benign?"
"It is a medical program," said the Kiri. "It is bound by operational directives to Do No Harm. By definition that makes it benign."
Paul experienced a strange sensation of déjà vu.
"Have we had this conversation before, Kiri?"
"We have not had this conversation before, Captain," said the Kiri.
Paul remained deep in thought for a few moments.
"Theoretically," said Paul. "Do you think that you could get information about the other ship - travel logs, information on the crew and passengers, cargo manifests?"
"Theoretically yes, Captain," said the Kiri. "Would you like me to try?"
"Would that pose a risk to our ship's security?"
"I could not do it if the program was quarantined. It would need to be left to operate unchecked."
"Would accessing the information set off an alert to the other Kiri?"
"I could masquerade as part of the ship's own operating system and retrieve the information before it notices," said the Kiri.
"Go do it, and come back to me with what you have discovered. And Kiri," said Paul. "Be quick and don't get caught."
"I can be stealthy," said the Kiri.
This time it was Sonny who came looking for Paul, and not the other way round.
He stared at Paul with his large plaintive eyes and for a moment Paul was ready to chuck his pride and grovel for forgiveness, before he remembered that he really had nothing to apologise for. Much.
Still, he couldn't stop feeling incredibly guilty when Sonny said, "Are you still angry with me?"
"No," said Paul. "Really, I'm not."
Sonny took Paul's hand.
"Come with me?" he said.
Paul let himself be lead down the stairs and through the corridor to the medical suites. The room was set with dozens of small sphere lights placed around the room, giving it a soft intimate glow. There was a table set with two place settings, and the mattress from the cot had been joined with a second mattress to make a large bed, made up with fresh pillows, sheets and a scarlet throw rug.
Sonny said, "I thought we could start over?"
"Captain," said the Kiri, as Sonny lay wrapped around Paul, sleeping, "I have that information you requested."
"Not now," whispered Paul quietly.
"What information?" said Sonny, half yawning.
"Nothing," said Paul. "Go back to sleep."
"I do not need to sleep," said the Kiri. "But the thought is appreciated, Captain."
"Kiri, go away and await instructions," said Paul.
"Yes Captain," said Kiri. She signed off with a small beep.
When Paul turned to face him, Sonny was awake, watching him.
"Is anything the matter?" said Sonny.
"Everything is fine," said Paul, curling around Sonny and stroking his shoulder. "In fact, I would say it was better than fine."
He slipped off Sonny's sheet and drew him into a kiss.
Stuff happens in this chapter. Just sayin'.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Paul awoke to the Kiri shouting, "I'm under attack!"
There was a beep and then she was gone.
Paul said, uncertainly, "What?"
For a moment he wondered whether he'd dreamed it. He could still feel Sonny next to him, and hear the shallow rattle of his breath in sleep. It was otherwise silent. His own voice had sounded like a shout.
"Kiri," he said. "Acknowledge."
"Kiri?" said Paul, uncertainly.
Paul heard an object slap the wall outside, then bounce.
He got out of bed quickly and smoothly ran out into the corridor. The lights were dim, and he could make out a small form running from him. Paul followed it, but the boy - it was a boy - ran swiftly through the corridors, always keeping just out of Paul's reach, jumping the steps to the green room in a single leap.
"No you don't," thought Paul, and leapt.
He slammed into the figure and it fell, their bodies crashing to the ground in a tangle of limbs.
"Let me go," said the child, wriggling out from underneath him.
Paul made a grab for his leg, and managed to get hold of his tennis shoe, but the boy wrenched his foot out of it, and was off and running before Paul could take hold of him again.
"Come back," Paul yelled after him. "Please! I'm not going to hurt you."
The boy slid towards the airlock and pulled at the handle. Something about the movement, about the boy himself, seemed very familiar to Paul, but he couldn't quite place it.
"There is nowhere to go," he said. "There's no oxygen beyond the seal."
The boy slipped inside the airlock, and the handle spun shut.
After a moment, Paul put his hand around the door wheel, spun it, and it clicked open.
The airlock was sealed from all sides, a small two by two metre room with another handle and door to the other side set into the far wall.
It was empty.
Paul fixed the handle of the airlock with a bent piece of metal to stop anyone from entering from the other side. He needed time to think.
Something Sonny had said - about having sleep-walked as a child - struck a chord in Paul's mind, and he couldn't rid himself of the notion that the child he had chased had been Sonny as a young boy. It was dark, and Paul hadn't gotten a close look; but the boy was agile and light-skinned, and he had short dark hair like Sonny.
He returned to the medical suite where Sonny was still sleeping. Paul ran his fingers over Sonny's head, ruffling his hair.
"Sonny," he whispered. "I need to talk to you."
Paul could still hear Sonny breathing, but when he turned him onto his back, he lay limp and motionless in Paul's arms, his eyes open and staring sightlessly into the distance.
"Sonny!" said Paul, shaking him.
He checked his breath, and it was warm.
"Kiri," said Paul. "Something is wrong with Sonny."
"Kiri," commanded Paul. "Acknowledge."
She wasn't responding.
"I am under attack," the Kiri had said.
Paul opened a life pod, and carefully put Sonny into it, tucking his hands and arms against his sides, and moving his head until it lay on one side, staring at him unseeingly.
Paul tried to remember the instructions for the life pod from his first aid training. He'd been drilled in the procedure dozens of times, but his mind kept spinning around like a hamster wheel with the single thought: "this is Sonny, this is Sonny".
He shakily pulled at the wires and nodes and attached them to Sonny's still frame. In a moment the medical scanner would light up with Sonny's medical statistics; his heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure.
Paul waited, but the machine stayed dark and inert.
"Kiri, engage the life pod," said Paul, forgetting that the interface was offline.
The life pod wouldn't work.
In his bubble-headed space suit, Paul felt strangely detached from the world around him.
Every step in his moon boots seemed to take twice as long as it usually did, and a desperate voice inside his own head told him that he had no time for this. But this was everything. If the computer system from Sonny's craft was attacking the Kiri, and that child had somehow done this to Sonny, then Paul needed go to the source and shut it down.
The metal bar was still hooked into the wheel handle of the airlock, and Paul fumbled with his gloves for a minute to take it out - before he was inside with his gloves back on and both doors sealed shut.
He opened the second access door.
There was no light in this part of the ship, no oxygen, and no heat. Paul turned on the light in his headpiece and it spread an eerie yellow glow over the corridor. The passages on this side of the ship were smaller and darker. Paul travelled through them in silence, his suit providing a barrier against the cold as recycled warm air flowed through it. His moon boots kept his feet grounded against the graded metal floor, as he moved towards the outer landing decks, where Sonny's escape pod had to have landed.
The cargo bay was on the uppermost level of the ship. As Paul progressed upwards, the decks became darker and more treacherous. Steely grey walls turned to black where they had been blasted by the explosion. Paul was careful to avoid tearing his suit on jagged metal and debris.
There was a crater at the far edge of the wall and Paul felt his boots lift off the floor and his body start to float towards it. He grabbed at the galley ladder and pulled himself upwards towards the next deck. He was wearing his jet pack on his back, as a precaution in case he became detached from the ship, but he thought that he could navigate his way up the ladder to the cargo decks without having to fire it. After climbing the ladder to the portal, he closed the exit and felt his feet settle back heavily against the floor.
The cargo bay was a large expanse of deck, with docking stations that could take two smaller sized pod craft. Docking was achieved through a field of electromagnetic energy drawing the hovering craft towards the landing pad. A good pilot could successfully modulate the craft's thrusters to counter the effect of the magnetic pull, and land the craft smoothly and softly onto the pad until the dock and craft locked together.
But the cargo bay was empty. Sonny's craft was not here now.
If it ever had been.
The lights in the bay flickered and flooded to life.
"Kiri?" said Paul.
"No," said Sonny. "It's me."
Paul turned around in surprise, and there was Sonny, walking towards him, looking the way he always looked, in his plain t-shirt and dark pants.
He wasn't wearing a space suit.
"That's impossible," said Paul. "You shouldn't be able to do that."
("I'm under attack," the Kiri had said.)
"What are you?" said Paul.
"Don't you know?" said Sonny. "You made me."
Paul backed away.
"Don't be afraid. I'm here to help you," Sonny said.
"You deactivated the Kiri," said Paul, hoping to be contradicted.
"It was becoming dangerous to you," said Sonny. "It started to think that it could do better at keeping you safe than you could."
"I don't understand," said Paul.
"The Kiri is a sophisticated computer program, but a program is all it is; all it can be. It's designed to take care of humans and give them aid, but it has about as much understanding of human needs and requirements as that broken radiator over there. The Kiri thought that if it gave you nutrients, air, and this habitat, you would thrive. Its care has slowly been killing you, because you need so much more than that to live."
"When it realised this, it determined that you needed a companion." said Sonny. "It tried to be company for you, but you rejected it. So it created a new Companion that it knew you would accept, made from of your own memories and desires, whilst it masked the source of those memories from you."
"You're not real," said Paul.
"I'm sorry," said Sonny. "But there's more to it than that."
And in an instant, Paul knew.
If Sonny wasn't real, then neither was this conversation. How had he gotten here if Sonny hadn't woken him from the life pod?
… And the answer was that he hadn't; his body was still lying in the medical suite, in his glass life preserver, being kept alive by the Kiri. Nothing here was real. Not even Paul himself.
"I really was a fool, wasn't I?" said Paul.
"No," said Sonny. "The Kiri counted on you wanting to sustain the illusion of your own creation, and because you were afraid of acknowledging the answers, you didn't ask the right questions. But your subconscious has been trying to give you clues the whole time. When you're ready to look for them, they'll be there for you to find."
"How do I get out?" said Paul.
"Give the command code, and an instruction," said Sonny.
Paul recited the command code. He said, "Open the life pod", and took one last look at Sonny.
Sonny smiled sadly at him.
For one heart-breaking instant, Paul's certainty faltered, and he knew that in the deepest depths of his imagination, he could never have imagined to life something as perfectly imperfect as Sonny himself.
The vision of Sonny was whipped away in the blink of an eye, replaced with a sheet of fogged green and grey glass, and Paul started to scream …
He thrashed in the small confines of a container that pressed against his sides, as his fists punched at the glass hatch, and the life pod popped open. Strange hands grabbed and dragged at him, pulling him out, and voices were talking around him.
Paul was still lashing out with his fists and arms and screaming, "Abort!", when he felt the sharp prick of a needle sinking into his neck.
He sagged to the ground. He was so tired and his limbs felt so, so heavy.
Someone was holding him, and the voice belonging to those arms said, "Is he going to be all right?"
"It hits them like that sometimes, when they've been in stasis for a long time," said the man holding the hypodermic syringe. Paul rolled his head and stared directly into his eyes.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Boy Scout," said Brian.
... And we're down the rabbit hole.