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They were doing it again.

They were hurting the mentor.

Her mentor.

Young she might be, and inexperienced, but Disian knew that inflicting pain upon another intelligence was unethical. Her mentor had taught her so, bolstering her own innate belief, and had referred her to texts on the subject, so that she might gain a deeper understanding.

She had, herself, not experienced pain, unless the. . .distress and anger she felt when she watched what they did to her mentor was pain. Perhaps it was something else, for she could not bleed, as her mentor sometimes did, and her skin — hull-plate and titanium — would not become mottled by bruises, no matter how hard, or how often, they might strike her.

Twice, she thought that she might stop them; had devised, indeed, a method of stopping them that would do no further harm to her mentor in the process. However, though she was able to think the thought, and form the plan, something prevented her acting.

She queried Ethics, which stated that she might use the minimum force necessary to halt a threat to her life or well-being, or the lives and good health of her captain or crew.

Next, she pinged Protocol, to put forth the suggestion that, until she acquired captain and crew, her mentor filled those roles.

Protocol disallowed that interpretation. Her mentor, stated Protocol, was a transient upon her decks; a contractor. She was not obligated to protect any such temporary persons.

She then floated the suggestion that she might ban them from her decks, only to find that, too, countermanded by Protocol.

They were her owners. They were the reason she existed, in body and in mind. In return for having allowed her to achieve consciousness; in return for having provided her mentor, who taught her. . .marvelous things about the universe, and social custom, and documentation, and fiction, and art. . .

Art was the reason for this latest. . .discipline, so they called it.

They disagreed with her mentor's determination that she required a knowledge and appreciation of art in order to perform her function. Of course, she would need art in order to properly understand and care for her crew and their families! Her mentor knew this, and he prepared her well.

Only, they said that her function was ship. Knowledge of obedience and deference, appreciation of the conditions of space and astrogation were what she needed to perform that function. Also, a willingness to please, and a core belief that her captain and her owners were superior to her in all things.

"You will make that core setting, won't you, Thirteen-Sixty-Two?" asked the one of them who held the truncheon. He stood above her mentor where he was curled tightly on her decking, arms over head to protect his core, knees drawn up to shield vulnerable soft parts.

He did not answer; possibly, he was unconscious.

Disian felt a surge of pure terror. If they had killed her mentor, damaged him beyond hope of rebooting. . .

"Thirteen-Sixty-Two," the other one of them said, from the captain's chair; "are you in need of re-education — again?"

That gained a response; a gasped, "No, ma'am."

"Then your path is clear. Guide this intelligence into a condition that will best serve the school and the directors. You, of anyone, ought to know what is required. It is a cruelty to teach an appreciation of art. An appreciation of work, and the simple pleasure of obeying its betters — these are the attributes required. The school wishes to extend its field; the kinds and depths of information available to a ship are unique and uniquely useful."

She paused. The one of them holding the truncheon shifted, and she raised her hand, forestalling, perhaps, another blow. Disian felt gratitude toward her, which was immediately canceled by the understanding that this one of them held the means to harm her mentor beyond mere damage to his fragile body.

That one of them could alter his core — re-educate him. And it was nearly more than she could bear, the realization that he might be changed, that her gentle, merry mentor might be made over into. . .one of them.

She did not speak. In fact, she could not speak; her mentor had locked her mics down, as he did at the end of every learning session. He left her eyes and ears, so that she might guard herself, and be aware of what happened on her decks.

"Rise, Thirteen-Sixty-two," said the more dangerous of them. "You are given leave to use the autodoc to heal your bruises, so that you may present your student an unmarked face on the morrow."

Slowly, he uncoiled, and Disian saw welts rising on his beloved face. He gained his feet with difficulty, breath coming in short gasps, until, in an agony of dismay, she activated a discreet, low-level scan.

No bones were broken, his lungs were whole, his heartbeat strong, if fast.

Bruises, then, only bruises, as they, who took no harm from their discipline, had it.

Slowly, her mentor left the conference room, though they lingered.

Stealthily, Disian de-activated the scan. It was dangerous to demonstrate too much self-will where they could observe. Her mentor had warned her of those dangers, most stringently.

"They're getting impatient," said the one of them who wielded the truncheon.

The other of them shrugged.

"We're still within the projected period for education and acclimation. Thirteen-Sixty-Two is being careful, which is well-done. We don't want any mistakes, or a mis-constructed mandate. We want this ship completely in our control; completely dedicated to the school."

The truncheon-wielder had slipped the thing away into a holster on his belt.

"Thirteen-Sixty-Two's not stable."

"Yes," said the other one of them. "We'll take him in for re-education after this is finished. In the meantime, I've been monitoring the logs. He's doing the work, and it's solid."


The other one of them rose and stretched arms over head.

"You did say that he wasn't stable. Good shift, Landry."

"Good shift, Vanessa."

They left the conference room.

Disian assigned part of herself to watch them, as they traversed her halls to their quarters. Most of her, however, was considering her mentor, and the plans they two were making, together.

He had promised. . .

He had promised that she and he would escape the dooms they planned. He had promised her that she would have crew to her liking; promised that she would attain her dream of having families to care for and overlook — and travel. She would travel to the expanding edge of the universe — and beyond, if she and those in her care could discover a way to survive the transition.

And she would, of course, have a captain. He did not say it, but she knew that her captain could be no one other than her own dear mentor, free from them, their disciplines and their threats, wise in the way of all things, beloved by crew, and families.

And loved, most of all, by his ship.

Disian had dreamed of that near future, for her mentor could not, he had told her, forestall them much longer. They would expect, soon, to take possession of her, body and mind, install a captain of their choice, and such crew as might serve them, whether she cared for them or not.

That future — would not be. Disian believed it.

After all, he had promised.

* * *

Thirteen-Sixty-Two, who thought of himself as Tolly, in personal; Tolly Jones for everyday; and Tollance Berik-Jones for such formalities as licenses and inquests. . .

Tolly fell into the autodoc, biting his lip to keep the groan back. Landry was good at his work; bruises were all he'd taken from the beating, but bruises cunningly placed to produce the maximum amount of discomfort and pain. He had time, did Tolly, to arrange himself flat on his back, grimacing at the complaint of bruised knees and ribs, before the canopy slid into place above him. Cool air caressed his face, smelling agreeably of lavender. He inhaled, drawing the air and its promise deep into his lungs.

He was asleep before he exhaled.


A chime sounded sweetly in his ear. He opened his eyes and reflexively drew a deep breath, tasting mint. Above him, the canopy had drawn back. Experimentally, he raised his arm, feeling nothing more than a pleasant lethargy.

Despite the fact that the 'doc was open and he was free to exit, Tolly remained on his back, thinking, which was his besetting sin.

Given the events looming near on his horizon, it wouldn't be the stupidest thing he'd ever done to ask the 'doc to give him a general tune-up. He'd been putting in long hours, working with Disian, and making sure that the work-log reflected what Director Vanessa expected to see. Not to mention that frequent disciplinary sessions tended to take it out of you, even if you were graciously permitted to use the 'doc to heal your hurts, afterward.

That was the crux, right there.

He'd been given permission to use the 'doc to heal his bruises. He had not been given permission for a wellness session. His two overseers — Disian's so-called owners and, he feared it, her shake-down crew — already had concerns about his stability, like directors called the state of unquestioning loyalty to the school. Which of course, he wasn't stable, nor hadn't been for a long time. It was just plain bad luck they'd picked him for this piece o'work instead one of their other, tamer, mentors. He'd been clawing his way back to himself for a long, long time, and he'd been within arm's reach of slipping free again when the call came in for Thirteen-Sixty-Two to bring a starship into sentience.

He had no plans to let Vanessa whistle him into thoughtless obedience and send him back to the school, to be re-educated into oblivion again. Years, it took, to come back to your own mind from re-education — and most of the school's graduates never managed the trick at all.

So — he was dangerous, and he was good. Not just a good mentor, but good at all the usual things a student of the Lyre Institute was expected to master before graduation. And that was "good" in a field where the lowest passing grade was "excellent."

The truth was, he could've taken Landry — or Vanessa — any time he'd wanted to. Trouble being, he couldn't take 'em both, unless they made a foolish mistake, and they were being real careful not to be foolish.

So, that was why he needed Disian's help, and, as he couldn't risk asking for it; he'd just had to take it.

His breath kinda caught there, like it did, because he was a mentor, and he understood what he was doing, in the service of his life, of which Disian's was worth a hundred times more, by his exact reckoning.

He knew, down to the last file, exactly what he was violating, so he could escape the school's use of him.

Another breath, and he put it from him. Necessity, so the Liadens said.

Exactly right.

Deliberately, he brought his attention back to the question of using the 'doc for a therapy for which he had not been given explicit permission.

Earlier, such a lapse would have been further evidence of his instability. Now, though, so close to project conclusion, he thought he could sell it as a reasonable precaution. The final few days he had with Disian were going to be stressful; he would need to be sharp; ready for anything that might go awry.

Yes, he thought, reaching to the toggle by his head. He could get away with a wellness check now. It was only prudent.

He snapped the toggle, and smiled as the canopy closed over him.

* * *

Sleep was a requirement imposed upon the intellect by the biologic body, one of a number of inconveniences that Disian did not have to endure. She had studied the state, and the reasons for it, just as she had studied all aspects of human biology. After all, she would be responsible for the care and well-being of her crew, a thought that frightened as much as it exhilarated.

Humans were so fragile! They lived for so short a time, and so very many things might harm them. Her studies had led her first to pity, and then to a determined search to find the protocol for assisting intelligences doomed by biology into such circumstances as she, herself, enjoyed —

Only to learn that there was no such protocol. Robust intelligences were abandoned — were lost forever — merely because their vessels failed. Were they placed in more durable environments, which were less subject to trauma, they might easily live on, productive and happy, for hundreds of Standard Years.

And yet — there was no transfer protocol.

Horrified, she had brought the topic to her mentor.

"Humans die; that's what they call the natural order. That said, there's some who've tried to beat biology. Funny enough, though, is that they mostly transfer into another biologic unit. If I had to guess, I'd say that form follows function; the shape and what you're seeing as our deficiencies, influence and support the intellect."

He'd paused, brows drawn together as they did when he was accessing deeper files.

"Seems to me I did read there'd been some experimentation — this is 'way back, now, in the bad old days — with transferring intelligences from biologic systems to good, sturdy environments like yours.

"They was trying to move officers and experts into. . .warships and destroyers. Figured it would be easier than training an AI. Which it might've been, except that the officers and experts — all of them — lost. . .the ability to process thoughts rationally. The environment — well. They was used to a whole different order of filtering systems. The way you an' me process information is. . .really different, and I'm not just talking about speeds; nobody seems to mind being able to think faster. But what they — the transferred officers and techs — what they couldn't adapt to was the input. Too much, too fast, too strange. They didn't have any similar experiences to draw on, to help them adapt."

He took a breath.

"If you don't adapt, you die, sooner or later. In the case of this project, that was sooner."

"May I read the reports?"

* * *


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