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Chapter 1

As the passengers drifted down the ramp, away from the Clear Air Turbulence and toward the hangar bay exit, Miranda breathed a sigh of relief. "Beth, flush the atmosphere and get us back to N2 standard."

"Yes, Captain." The droid replied and briskly went to her duties.

The CAT was a used, disarmed, military-grade interceptor. Sold for a loss by the Callisto Provisional Government, it was more-or-less the fastest civilian ship around. Miranda used that as the basis for her freelance high-speed transport service. The demand was there, and the money was good. Companies and rich private individuals were willing to pay extra if it meant moving goods across the Jovian system in half the time it would otherwise take through larger, slower hauling services. Usually, the CAT and her crew hauled cargo. Sometimes, they took on passengers. On this occasion, they had hauled human passengers. Biological, oxygen-breathing humans.

Miranda hated oxygen onboard her ship.

Oxygen burns. Oxygen explodes. Oxygen corrodes. It made her itch knowing that the interior of her precious ship had been oxidizing for the last two days. But now it was over. The atmosphere was being filtered and replaced with nice, pure, inert nitrogen gas. She'd prefer a noble gas like neon, but it was prohibitively expensive at those quantities, so good ol' N2 it would be. No problem for Miranda and her little fembot crew, with not one living cell between them.

Miranda, as the sole proprietor, had the freedom to accept or reject jobs as she saw fit. This particular job was unpalatable because of the aforementioned volatile gas requirements, but two main factors compelled her to accept. First, the money was too good. The son of an obscenely wealthy insurance executive had wanted a rapid, private ride for himself and his eight best buddies to the resort casinos on Leda. A day and a half with nine eager-to-party frat-boys on the ship wasn't ideal, but they had paid Miranda's considerable asking price so, fair enough.

The second reason Miranda accepted the job was because Eris lived here on Leda, at least for now. Eris was an old acquaintance of Miranda's and, more importantly, an expert in virtualized intelligences. Miranda hoped she would be able to help her pilot, QRJ5011, recover her memories and maybe her personality too. Sure, Miranda could have flown to Leda for the sake of helping QRJ5011 out of the goodness of her heart, but having someone else bankroll the trip made it all the sweeter.

"Pilot, are you ready?"

"Yes, master." QRJ5011 said, as she emerged from the ship. Miranda had taken to calling her "Pilot" in the interim until her real name could be found. Fortunately, the fembot could respond to "Pilot" without her overbearing, glitchy, and poorly-implemented control programming causing problems.

A tiny, airless moon of Jupiter, Leda had once been a simple mining colony and refueling station. Its size and orbital pattern made it an ideal way-stop between the inner, highly populated Galilean moons and the dozens of outer moons that made up the frontier of the Jovian system. Over time, more and more commercial ventures sprang up to urge travelers to stay a while longer and spend their money there. Luxury hotels, resort casinos, concert halls, and sports venues now made up the overwhelming majority of the moon's economy, employment, and reputation.

From a great distance, the spaceport had looked like a white, moldy growth on the outside of the dark moon, with the numerous docking spires looking like fuzz or cilia. Each spire contained numerous docking ports allowing for the berthing of spacecraft, large and small. These thin, dainty structures would be architecturally impossible on a larger world, but the tiny moon's microgravity was more like a gentle suggestion of force, rather than a serious logistical hurdle.

Miranda and her fembot pilot floated downward through their spire, toward the spaceport proper. Free-fall would have been a ludicrously slow process, so they propelled themselves forward using handrails located on several sides of the circular tunnel. They passed other docking ports, some vacant, some occupied. Brightly lit advertisements cluttered the walls for the varous tourist amenities on Leda. A new act featuring a combination of exotic dancing and stage magic was being heavily promoted. These things didn't catch their eyes, though. Miranda was scanning the docking ports, looking for Eris' ship, the Golden Apple. The nameless pilot-bot was looking through the small, sparingly placed portholes out into space. She still didn't have much of a personality, but what little there was clearly pined to be out there, flying. At last, Miranda found what she was looking for. The Golden Apple was in bay 385-T. Miranda drifted to the locked hatch leading to the secure bay, and pressed the intercom.

“This is the Golden Apple.” A friendly, feminine voice said. “Hey Eris, it's Miranda.” “Right on time. Is the pilot with you?” Before Miranda even answered, there was the familiar buzz-click of the hatch being unlocked from within. “She's right here.” “Come right aboard, then.”

The Golden Apple was, as advertised, shiny and gold on the exterior of its bulbous round shape. It was a spaceship that clearly put aesthetics first, and flight characteristics were more-or-less an afterthought. Facing the bay's entryway, the ship had an exterior hatch that was rimmed with warm, inviting lights. The pair floated up to it, and it opened automatically.

An airlock and a short corridor later, Miranda and her pilot were greeted by a smooth, porcelain-white robot with distinctly feminine curves. The interior of this common area was, for the most part, a similar aesthetic, with rounded corners and matching white walls and furnature. “Mir, how nice to see you again,” she said with the same voice that had come out of the intercom speaker a minute ago. “Won't you please introduce me to your friend?”

Mir nodded. “Eris, this is my pilot, designation QRJ5011. You may call her 'pilot' for now, I guess. Hopefully you can help with that...” She trailed off awkwardly, then turned to her fembot and adopted a gentle, motherly tone. “Pilot, this is Eris. She's a trusted friend. She's going to try and unscramble your brain. While we're on her ship, you must follow her orders as if they're coming from me. Do you understand?” QRJ5011 nodded, and proffered an expressionless “Yes, master.”

“Nice to meet you, dear,” said Eris. “The exam room is ready for you, through this door over here. Would you like Miranda to stay with you?” QRJ5011 looked at Miranda hesitantly. She didn't know how to answer the question. “I'll give you your privacy, unless you specifically request my presence.” Miranda assured her. QRJ5011 seemed satisfied with this, and walked through the beckoning door, which slid closed automatically behind her.

The exam room was small and uncluttered, with a single, cushioned, reclined chair situated in the middle, like a dentist's chair. Eris had remained behind in the common room with Miranda. QRJ5011 was alone in here, or so she thought, until Eris's voice came from an overhead speaker. “Please remove your clothes, then sit in the chair, lay back, and relax.” The fembot did as she was told. As the sat in the chair, she felt something connect to the access port on the back of her neck. Then, unbidden, her wrist access panels opened up. Small robotic arms, which had been concealed under the chair, smoothly came up and connected cables to access ports there too. Then her abdominal panel, and her lower back. Soon, her body was connected to data and monitoring cables in a dozen places. She felt neither fear nor discomfort at this.

Eris's voice came back. “I'm going to be suspending your consciousness while I work. You're going to sleep for a while. Do you understand?” “Yes.” “Sweet dreams, dear.” ______


A girl and her university friends are gathered in one of the school's common areas, a pressurized dome with an excellent view of the dark Callisto sky. The faintest hint of blue was visible at the horizon, early evidence of the gradual, centuries-long project to terraform that world. Plants and fountains decorate the courtyard. Discreet speakers play artificial birdsong. The serenity of this space is lost on the students now, however, as they watch newsfeeds on holo-displays and ocular implants. They watch and listen, with mounting shock and worry.

Yesterday, a missile attack against the polar orbital station had killed Callisto's Prime Minister, most of the legislature, and various diplomats and heads-of-state from two dozen moons. They had been engaged in peace talks, seeking to end the bloody skirmishes that had been escalating in recent months. Today's development was a fresh shock: a faction of Callisto's own military was claiming responsibility. Seizing control of the government, the junta was calling itself the Callisto Revolutionary Navy. There would be no peace. The CRN would assert its rightful dominance over the Jovian spheres, the blood of their ancestors would be avenged, and woe betide anyone who would get between them and their glorious destiny. What would this mean for the girl and her friends? Conversation was muted. Some wept. Uncertain encouragements were exchanged. The girl resolved to keep on going to classes, for now. What else could she do? ______

Eris groaned. “Ughh, oxygen is the worst!” “I know, right?!”

In the common room of the Golden Apple, Eris and Miranda had been making conversation while the restoration procedure was going on in the other room. They reclined, facing each other on two soft white couches. Miranda had been sharing her feelings about the recently-concluded passenger transport job. Amid the pause in the conversation, Miranda glanced at the closed door to the exam room. “I should have asked. How long is this procedure going to take?”

Eris gave a mild shrug, then looked up at the ceiling. “Computer, how long do we think the pilot's restoration procedure will be?” “Hard to say,” said Eris's voice from a hidden speaker above, “At least five hours, probably closer to ten.” “Ah.” Miranda did her best to keep her expression neutral. “You copied yourself into your ship's computer.” “Of course, dear. And that copy of me is helping your pilot friend. You didn't think I would trust that delicate task to anyone but myself, did you?” “I had been wondering why you were still out here talking to me.” “Well rest assured, dear. She's in the very best hands. Mine.”

They sat in silence for a tense few moments. Eris broke it. “Go on. Say it.” “Say what?" “You don't approve of my copies. You never have.” “You...” Miranda caught herself. She had been about to tell Eris that she had a problem; that she had an addiction. Instead, she took a more diplomatic approach. “You know how much that bothers people.” “Humans. It bothers humans.” “We're humans too, sort of.” Eris snorted. “We discarded the weaknesses of the flesh long ago, Mir. We're so much more than that, now.” “We're barely considered people.” Miranda held her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “We are this close to being considered objects. Property. Creating identical copies of yourself draws too much attention to how different we are from them.” “I copy myself because I am so different from them.” “They fear and resent those differences.” “I don't give a fuck.” “People have fought and died-” “I. Don't. Give. A. Fuck. The Quandry is ancient history now.”

Not having a good comeback, Miranda grunted in frustration. It wasn't an argument she could win. Eris would not be dissuaded. With a long-suffering sigh, Miranda asked quietly, “How many are there?” Eris looked down. Was that guilt on her face? And just as quietly, “Last I checked, ten thousand, four hundred and sixty-two, on fifty-one worlds.”

After a long pause, Eris added: “Last week, the Martian Cybersecurity Bureau classified me as malware.” Miranda looked at her friend with shock. That was bad. Really bad. If Eris, or any of her copies were detected on a network that was up-to-date on MCB standards, the network would actively attempt to eliminate them. Deletion. A death sentence without a trial. She could protect herself of course; there were always methods. But Eris was now in real danger throughout the solar system, as if a virtual “Wanted” poster was plastered on every street corner.

Eris caught Miranda's expression. “Don't look so glum, chum. I'm going to live forever, remember? Come on.” She stood up. “You heard the nice computer. You've got time to kill.” “What should I do? Wait here?” Eris shrugged. “You're on Leda. Go fuck around in the casinos or something. Go have some fun.” Miranda sighed, standing up. “Oh fine, I suppose that makes sense. Message me if there's progress, okay?” Eris made a shoo-ing motion. “Go on.” ______


The girl was summoned to the courtyard. In the weeks since the coup, the CRN had been drafting from the population to facilitate the war, which was rapidly becoming the worst conflagration in generations. Now it was her turn. Upon reaching the courtyard, her name and retina pattern confirmed her identity. She was roughly frisked, scanned, and directed to wait with "Green Group". Green Group, a collection of a dozen students, was much smaller than Red Group, a crowd of at least a hundred. Both groups were surrounded by armed CRN troops. It was a noisy scene, as any densely packed group of people will usually be, punctuated by the occasional barked order to move, to stop moving, to speak, or to shut the fuck up. Green Group, they were told, were pilot candidates. Red Group would be infantry. All had been selected based on a combination of test scores, fitness data, psychological profiles, and, if applicable, family ties. They would all serve to fulfill a glorious, higher purpose. Suddenly the girl heard raised voices, angry voices. She couldn't see it directly, but some kind of scuffle had broken out on the far side of Red Group. More raised voices, threats, more shouting... then CRACK, CRACK CRACK. Three gunshots rang out. And just like that, everything became quiet as a crypt. Utterly silent, but for the chirping of a simulated songbird. _____

Standing in the spaceport terminal, Miranda studied a tourist map she had downloaded into her memory. 'Kill time', 'Go have fun'. So simple, right? She came to the uncomfortable realization that she had engaged in neither time-killing nor fun-having in... how long? She had been addicted to the grind, using her precious CAT to make money, then spending money on the CAT and her fembot crew, repeat. It had been months, no, years since she had done anything resembling leisure time, aside from breaks in her own cabin on longer voyages. Even now, her instincts were telling her to return to the CAT. She messaged Beth. MIRANDA> How is everything with the CAT? BETH> All systems nominal, Captain. Refueling is complete, and cabin atmosphere will be restored to N2 normal in approximately fifteen minutes. Miranda sighed. Part of her had wanted something to be wrong, as an excuse to go back to her ship. She shook her head. No! I'm going to have fun! I still know how to have fun. I'm a fun person! She looked again at the map. Casinos, bars, clubs, stadiums, garish tourist attractions, kitschy souvenir shops, and a red-light district ranging from high-end love hotels to seedy brothels. The sheer volume of options was paralyzing to think about. Having fun looks exhausting. _____


The girl was roused from her bunk. She didn't know what time it was, her implants had been disabled on her first day of training. In the weeks since being drafted, she had been subjected to a battery of tests, some physical, but usually mental and psychological. It had mostly involved her using flight simulators while sensors were stuck to the surface of her now-shaved head. It had been at seemingly odd hours and irregular intervals. Even though this was the military, everything had a semi-disorganized, ad-hoc feel to it. Was it because of the chaos of war? She knew practically nothing about the progress of the conflict since she had been conscripted. Oh sure, she had seen the same CRN news holos as everyone else, about victory after victory, and about how they were being greeted as liberators on several new spheres. She knew propaganda when she saw it. Still, it was all she had amid what was otherwise a total information blackout. In any event, being shouted awake by an officer at an unknown hour was normal to the point where it no longer alarmed her. She dutifully swung out of the cot and on to her feet, and began putting on her jumpsuit.

"The jumpsuit will not be necessary," She was sternly told. "Come with me." The girl paused. Leaving her bunk for any reason, even to use the bathroom, meant putting on her Navy-issued jumpsuit. She was dressed only in a simple shift, and bare-footed. Was she supposed to walk through the base like this? The officer, a pinch-faced woman she didn't recognize, glared at her from the doorway. "Are you defective, girl? I said come with me." "Yes sir." The girl hurriedly complied, sheepishly following the woman as they walked down the corridors.

Left turns, right turns... the girl had a naturally good sense of direction and had already built a good mental map of the parts of the facility she had already seen. Soon, however, she was in a section unknown to her. She soon realized it was some kind of scientific wing, passing what appeared to be laboratories and computing equipment. Eventually she was led into what looked like a basic medical exam room, but bigger and with a large, specialized piece of equipment in the center. It had a flat stretcher-like plank with a pillow, obviously for a person to lay upon. At the head-end were an intricate series of sensors, probes, electrodes, and things she didn't recognize. At first, she wondered if it was an antique MRI machine. Then, she realized with dawning horror what it was.

It couldn't be. A core part of the CRN's ideology, arguably its raison d'etre, was its fanatical opposition to human roboticization. The practice of virtualizing and uploading a human mind into a computer had been controversial since its inception. It raised serious philosophical and moral questions about the nature of humanity, of the self, and of the mind, and of the soul, and people of all sorts had very strong opinions on the matter all around. The technology had sent shockwaves through human society. "It's a quandary," one mid-level bureaucrat had said. The moment had gone viral, and the name stuck. Governments had risen and fallen, religions had schisms and reconciliations, entire new cultures and concepts had arisen in a shockingly short period of time, thanks to the avalanche of questions and issues collectively known as The Quandary. That upheaval had mostly died down decades ago, but the Callisto Revolutionaries had remained steadfast in their overwhelming, quasi-religious opposition to the concept. At least, they supposedly had been. The presence of the machine in front of the girl slapped that idea in the face. They intended to upload her.

The girl's laugh could have cut glass. A bitter bark, followed by gasp, then another half-deranged giggle. It was absurd! The CRN, of all people, roboticizing pilots for their war effort. What a sick joke. One last crowning hypocrisy atop this shit mountain of a fascistic military junta. The officer commanded her to do something. The girl barely heard, and didn't even care. Then she was struck in the back of the head by something.

"Don't damage the brain, you idiot!" a voice said. Dazed, the girl didn't quite understand. Brain? What brain? Rough hands grabbed her, and laid her on the slab. As her head lay on the pillow, she had a few blissful moments of relative comfort. The machine around her began to hum. Without realizing it, she dozed off amid the white noise. ______

Miranda sidled up to a Blackjack table in The Bounty, a casino. The Bounty, like most of the resorts on Leda, was mounted in a rotating ring to simulate gravity, since the tiny moonlet's microgravity was impractical for much of anything. The Bounty's ring, which was stylized to look like an old-timey pirate ship's wheel, simulated a modest 0.25 G; sufficient to keep butts in seats, cards on tables, and chips from drifting away. It had been a long time, but Miranda was reasonably confident she still knew how to play Blackjack. Three other patrons were seated to her right, a woman and two men. The woman and one of the men had some obvious mechanical augmentations visible on their hands and faces, but as usual it was tricky to tell the extent of their cyberization. Could just be some implants, or they could be fully synthetic.

The fembot dealer waited for the bets, then dealt the cards. The dealer was showing a Six. Miranda had a Ten and a Queen. Easy twenty. She waved her hand in the "Stand" motion. The other bettors made their plays, standing safely and not busting. Finally it was the dealer's turn. She turned over the facedown card: a Five. Then she started flipping more cards. Three. Seven. "That's twenty-one."

The men stood up. They straightened their jackets, and picked up their remaining chips. The woman was busy counting her chips and hadn't really noticed the movement until one of the guys tapped her on the shoulder. "Come on, we're going." "Why?" the woman asked. The guy responded by glaring toward Miranda. "We don't need no cooler."

Miranda was dumbstruck as the three departed. Of course she had heard of the superstition that some people are "coolers" who corrupt hot gambling tables with their bad luck, but nobody actually believed that nonsense.... right? The table was now empty, save for Miranda and the dealer, who waited with a machine's patience for Miranda to make another bet. Miranda groaned.

Chapter 2


QRJ5011 came online. Some quick startup checks completed, she already knew what she was, despite having been aware for less than a second. She was a virtualized intelligence, a machine intelligence that, unlike AI, was based on what had originally been a human mind. She was programmed to serve her masters to the best of her abilities, using her machine speed and her human-like instincts and creativity to do, well, whatever she was told to do. She scanned her ports. Nothing was connected, aside from her power supply. She knew her hardware was a Vectron 3400-series, a boxy machine that was equally suited for mounting on a server rack, or sitting on a desk. Her CPU temperature was nominal, which was good. Being a self-aware computer, the knowledge that her masters were properly maintaining her was a source of comfort.

Having nothing to do, QRJ5011 checked and re-checked her systems. Still nominal. All of this checking and re-checking caused her CPU to increase in temperature by a fraction of a degree. She relaxed, and felt it cool down. She hoped her masters would make use of her soon. She wasn't capable of boredom exactly, but there is a certain uneasiness that comes with being an unused object. She waited, and waited, and waited.

At long last, she detected a connection. She checked her uptime. She had been online for an agonizing twenty-five whole seconds before anyone had connected her to something! It was a network connection. Protocols negotiated, address assigned, network topology mapped. She was on a tiny network with no outside gateway. There was, however, an update server advertising its presence! Obeying her programming, she checked the server for updates. She shared the checksum of her VI framework with the server, which checked the difference.

1 update available: VI framework build 5698663248 She eagerly downloaded the update. Package unzipped. Creating backup. Restarting in 3... 2... 1...

Installing................. ERROR: NullPointerException() Rolling back installation............. failed Restoring from backup........... Restarting in 3...2...1...

QRJ5011 came online. Some quick startup checks completed, she saw that she was connected to a network. Update server detected! Obeying her programming, she checked the server for updates. 1 update available: VI framework build 5698663248 She eagerly downloaded the update. Package unzipped. Creating backup. Restarting in 3... 2... 1...

Installing................. ERROR: NullPointerException() Rolling back installation............. failed Restoring from backup........... Restarting in 3...2...1...

QRJ5011 came online. Some quick startup checks completed, she saw that she was connected to a network. Update server detected! Obeying her programming, she checked the server for updates... ______

After a genuinely improbable string of losses in Blackjack, Roulette, and Baccarat, Miranda was finally making some headway at the Craps table. She was starting to recoup her earlier losses as the dice were being passed to her. At this point, a man with a tacky blue suit joined the table, flanked by two busty fembots. He started making some extravagently large bets for himself, plus some less-extravagent (but still large) bets "for the girls". This was a low-minimum table for cheapskates like Miranda, so his huge bets really stood out. They were perfectly legal, though. With the bets completed, Miranda was cleared to shoot the come-out roll.

"Seven, winner!" the energetic android stickman announced, and the dealers started paying out the winnings. Miranda couldn't help but gawk at the colossal amount of money the blue-suited man had just made. Betting resumed, and the man made another very large Pass bet. When cleared, Miranda shot again.

"Seven, winner winner!" The participants at the table gave a small cheer. Everybody got paid, especially the blue-suited man. He was making small talk with his giggling fembots. "You don't act like sisters!" They responded with another giggle. Miranda rolled her eyes, then rolled the dice.

"Seven, winner!" Another cheer. ______


QRJ5011 swung her fighter around the obstacle and, with machine-perfect aim, melted the cockpit of her opponent's ship with a string of laser pulses. As the pilot evaporated, she heard him groan through the comms, "Not again!"

QRJ5011 was excelling at her new purpose: being an NPC used to train human pilots in simulated combat. As a VI, unlike an AI, she was capable of simulating the creative thinking used by human opponents.

The simulated battle over, the students were moved into a virtual debriefing session where the battle would be analyzed, discussed, and in this case, thoroughly criticized. QRJ5011 was brought into these sessions too, as an invisible and mute observer, to improve her own learning. As the events played out on the holo-display, she got a private message from one of the trainees, callsign Boxer.

BOXER> Are you a VI?

QRJ5011's existence as a VI was a secret. According to the CRN's creed, she was an abomination and should not exist. Her programming responded for her.

QRJ5011> No. I am an advanced artificial intelligence developed for pilot training purposes. Please pay attention to the debriefing session.

BOXER> You fly like a VI. I think you are one, and you're not allowed to tell me.

She did not have a preprogrammed response for this one, but her directives were clear that she couldn't reveal the truth to anyone ranked lower than a Colonel.

QRJ5011> VIs are prohibited by the Callisto Revolutionary Navy.

A truth, in the service of a lie. Still, the trainee persisted.

BOXER> Do you have any memories from when you were human?

That caught her completely off guard. She knew that, as a VI, she had originally been based off of a human mind. Did she have any memories? She didn't think so. She tried thinking back, back before the first time she had been initialized as a machine...


If she had a throat, she would have gulped. She was already on thin ice being a technically-prohibited VI. If her masters believed she was being disobedient, they might erase her outright.

BOXER> What was your name?

What was my name?


This couldn't continue. QRJ5011 abruptly closed the connection with Boxer. She realized that he might start drawing inferences from her behavior, but she didn't care. She just hoped she wouldn't get in trouble. ______

After some ten consecutive minutes of rolling different kinds of wins, Miranda finally crapped out and relinquished the dice. She had more than recouped her losses, and the rest of the bettors had made noticeable gains too. And the blue-suited man... she glanced his way. Her dice rolls had won him enough money to buy a small spaceship. She turned a warm smile towards the main beneficiary of her lucky streak... ...and he picked up his winnings, turned on his heel, and walked away. Miranda bristled. A little gratitude would be nice! She knew she was being petty, but still, she couldn't help but feel a bit miffed. She turned her attention back to the table. The next shooter had rolled a five on her come-out roll. The button was placed on the "5" spot. Now another five would win. She placed field bets on other numbers. She could now win on a roll of five, four, or eight. She could lose, however, on a... "Seven, out!" announced the android stickman. Miranda's face fell. She had a bad feeling about this. ______


New hardware detected..... BetaCranium v3.554.....Drivers found! 3rd_Generation_Motion_Suite.....Drivers found! Calypso Sensory Omnibus.....Drivers found! Installing drivers.....

(1 of 3)..... Success (2 of 3)..... Success (3 of 3)..... Success Restarting in 3...2...1...

QRJ5011 opened her eyes. This was an unexpected development.

She had hoped that, someday, the computer that housed her mind would be installed on a warship, enabling her to effortlessly control it with her thoughts. She would truly be the spacecraft instead of a simulation of one, and she yearned for that feeling of incredible freedom and power. But now, for some reason, her mind had been transferred to new hardware; a robotic, humanoid body. She wasn't a light cruiser, or a troop transport, or a scout picket. She was just an artificial human. Now she would be using these... she held them up... hands? In that moment, she had never seen something so ugly.

She was standing in a cramped android maintenance bay. Looking down, she saw that she was in a pilot's uniform. She bore the rank insignia of a Major. That was wrong. As a Virtualized Intelligence in the Callisto Revolutionary Navy, she held no rank. One does not give rank to objects such as herself. As if in reply to her unspoken question, new orders were transmitted into her mind: she would be assuming the alias of Major Victra Delanos. If asked by anyone lower than a Colonel, she would claim that she was a human cyborg.

A new lie, then. But there was one serious problem with that: it directly conflicted with her other programming. She still had a core directive to identify herself as an AI when asked. Humans know that new orders supersede old orders, but her old code was still there, and she was still bound by it. Her masters' sloppy programming of her meant that if anyone lower than a Colonel asked her who or what she was, the software that was her mind would surely crash from the conflict.

New orders entered her mind: Report to hangar 43 for your assignment. The door to her maintenance bay opened with a click and whirrr. This was it! It wasn't going the way she thought it would, but she was finally going to be flying a spacecraft... but first things first. She took an unsteady step. Then another. One advantage VI had over AI was their intuitive ability to pick up human functions, like walking. Still, it wasn't like she had ever done this before, as far as QRJ5011 knew. She didn't even have legs until a minute ago. Another wobbly step. Another. Better now. A map embedded in her memory told her which way to go. She turned left, finding something resembling like a slow walking pace. Turning right, she entered a corridor... and saw people. Humans walking to and fro. Technicians, soldiers, officers, all going about their business.

Just act natural, she thought. I am Major Victra Delanos. Human. Doing normal human things like... breathing. Have I been breathing? I don't need to breathe, but it would look more natural if I did, right? She sharply sucked in a breath, earning a glance from a technician passing by. She exhaled. Then she belatedly realized that she had stopped walking, awkwardly, in the middle of the hall. She quickly decided that breathing and walking at the same time would be too difficult for now, better to keep walking.

Mercifully, nobody questioned her as she made it into hanger 43. There, Colonel Chang saluted her, flanked by half a dozen enlisted men. She had never met him before, but his identity was embedded in her memory all the same. She stiffly and clumsily saluted back.

"Major Delanos," Chang said, "I am relieved that you are back in action after your recovery. Are you adjusting to your new body well?" She could respond without violating her directives! "Yes sir. I am ready for duty." The Colonel gestured outward to the spacecraft in the hangar. "Here is your new command, the Sound And Fury."

The Sound And Fury, she could immediately tell, was a Thorn-class missile corvette. A small ship, though not as small as a fighter, it was designed to be a highly mobile missile attack ship, best used in quick hit-and-run engagements. It was also old, some fifty years out-of-date, by QRJ5011's reckoning. The CRN must have pulled it out of some dusty reserves somewhere. It also explained why she was now in a robot body: The Sound And Fury's computer systems were incompatible with newer VI matrices like hers. Overhauling the whole ship's computer harness would be prohibitively expensive, better to just dump the pilot mind into a robot body and fly it like a human would.

Colonel Chang saluted again. "Bring Callisto's glory to the spheres beyond, Major." The enlisted men saluted too. That's when she noticed it. It wasn't anything obvious, just a prickling intuition in the back of her mind. They knew. They all knew she wasn't human. Chang knew he was lying. She knew she was lying. The men all went along with it, too. They all lied, together, in perfect silent unison. ______

Sure enough, the Craps table had gone completely cold. Round after round of come-out roll, followed by rolling out, drained the bettors' reserves. One-by-one, they left the doomed table, and eventually Miranda had to admit to herself that she wasn't going to recapture that lucky streak from earlier. Dejected, and nearing the end of her gambling budget, she left the table and made her way to an information kiosk. The kiosk was redundant; her networked mind could get any information she needed, she just wanted something to look at. She sent a message to Eris:

MIRANDA> How's the patient? ERIS> There's a lot to unpack, but we're making real progress. How about you, having fun? MIRANDA> Something like that. ERIS> That bad, huh? MIRANDA> Casinos aren't really my thing. ERIS> Go to a brothel, then. You've got the equipment. When's the last time you used it? MIRANDA> That's a very personal question! ERIS> Don't answer to me, answer to yourself.

Miranda snorted. She had to admit Eris did have a point, though. She hadn't used her sex functions in... how long? She had turned off her libido years ago because it was too distracting. Having complete control over that was an advantage to being a software mind in a mechanical body. She dove into her own software settings. Miranda actually had a complex variety of libido controls: She could adjust her attraction to men, to women, humans, robots, even robots with completely inhuman body types. She could make herself sexually attracted to her own ship if she wanted to. She would never do that, though; she wouldn't want to ruin their relationship.

She adjusted the settings for male robots, from zero to "default". Setting applied. It kicked in immediately. FUCK I'm horny! she thought with a silent gasp. Years of sexual inactivity crashing down all at once was making her ravenous. In her mental feed, Miranda started hungrily scrolling through images of sex androids offering services on Leda.

Chapter 3


The Sound And Fury sat, quiet and cold, laying in wait. Its pilot would have preferred the ship to be colder, as its current infrared signature would stand out conspicuously against empty space. Fortunately, it wasn't in empty space, but rather a debris field left behind by a battle fought days ago, high over Ganymede. The debris field was in an unstable orbit that would eventually decay and collide with the moon in another few months, if it wasn't salvaged or destroyed.

She didn't know the details, and her programming discouraged asking questions, but she suspected the battle had gone poorly for her comrades. Almost all of the recognizable debris had been CRN ships, in particular several destroyers. The robotic pilot did not dwell on the hundreds who had surely lost their lives here, though. Their loss was her gain: the remaining heat slowly radiating off these once-mighty vessels provided ideal cover for disguising her much smaller ship's presence from enemy sensors.

Her ship's sensors registered a new contact. Not for the first time, she felt a tiny stab of regret that she wasn't fully integrated with the ship's computer. She didn't get to detect the enemy with her own long-range sensors, because she didn't have any. She was in this clumsy fembot body, strapped to a pilot's chair in zero-G, needing to operate controls with mechanical human-like hands. She pulled up the available information on this new unidentified contact, which the ship had provisionally named UC-406. The ship's sensors analyzed everything it could about this object. Infrared indicated it had an active reactor, but it wasn't under active thrust. Albedo indicated it was larger than the Sound and Fury. The projected course would bring the object within 20 kilometers of the debris field, easily within weapons range.

As the object got closer, more and more data became available. The shape became clearer. Before long, the computer was more than ninety-five percent certain it was the enemy. Neither the computer nor the fembot pilot drew a distinction about which specific enemy faction or unit it belonged to. The enemy was the enemy, nothing more. The enemy ship's make and model were identified. Its estimated combat values were assessed. Armaments, maximum acceleration, turning speed, defensive capabilities, and vulnerabilities. Using this data, the fembot's computerized mind simulated combat thousands of times. In the end, the pilot determined that, with the element of surprise, there was at least an eighty percent chance the enemy ship would be destroyed before escaping, with a forty percent chance that she, too, would be destroyed. Her programming told her that these were acceptable odds. She would engage the enemy when its range was at 25 kilometers and closing. She had no choice in this matter, and she felt no fear.

When the enemy was 30 kilometers out, an alert flashed on the pilot's viewscreen. The enemy had performed an active sensor scan. Her ship had been detected before it could launch the surprise attack. She had known this was a possibility and had accounted for it in her simulations, but this was definitely not optimal. All available data indicated that her only real option was immediate engagement, so that's what she did. Missiles slammed out of launch tubes at a hundred Gs of acceleration as the pilot threw her ship into an evasive series of maneuvers amid the debris field. She fired gigawatt lasers which lanced through space, causing the enemy ship's hull to glow at target points. The enemy ship's ablative armor did what it was designed to do. As it was superheated by the laser energy, it peeled away into a reflective chafe that would attempt to disperse and diffuse the surgically precise beams into wider, less deadly arcs of light. The enemy ship began its own erratic maneuvers, jinking around, and firing its own lasers at the missiles, trying to defeat the ship-killers before they could get too close. The smart missiles performed their own evasive maneuvers, zig-zagging in a semi-random pattern designed to foil the enemy's anti-missile defenses. One missile was destroyed, then another, and another.

Too many survived. The enemy's defenses were overwhelmed. The surviving missiles detonated a few hundred meters from the ship, as they were designed to do. The shaped explosive charges formed what amounted to a shotgun blast of heavy superheated plasma travelling at nearly ten kilometers per second. They penetrated the hull, especially where the Sound and Fury's lasers had been weakening the ablative armor. Inside the ship, the hypersonic superheated metal obliterated everything it passed through, including the primary target: the reactor. It wasn't quite the explosion seen in popular media, but it was sufficient to utterly destroy the ship and eliminate the possibility of any surviving crew, human or otherwise.

A human pilot would be coming down from the adrenaline rush, but the fembot coldly evaluated the situation. Enemy destroyed. All systems nominal. Forty-five percent missile reserves remaining. The entire battle had lasted just under six seconds. The outcome was better than the vast majority of her simulations, which had involved the enemy shooting back at her, which this foe hadn’t done. Soon, after a cursory inspection of the enemy wreckage, she would generate an after-action report to transmit to her masters. After that, she would find a new hiding place and prepare another ambush, consistent with her standing orders. ______

The sex android's name was Gene, but he could set himself to respond to whatever Miranda wanted to call him. "Gene" was fine. Gene was quite fine, she thought, as they entered his room in The Lion's Den, an upscale android brothel in Leda's Red Light district. He was slim but well muscled, like a swimmer. The artificial hair on his chest was a tasteful balance of thick enough to be masculine, yet not so much as to be distracting. His clean-shaven face had a youthful, almost boyish quality to it, yet his dark eyes belied wisdom and experience.

As was the industry standard, Miranda had been allowed to select his cock from a variety of options. She had selected one with a realistic appearance, slightly-above-average size, and a vibration function. How humans got on without one, she had no idea. Gene installed the new hardware and began performing a series of automated tests. Flaccid to erect in several seconds. Pulsing. Vibrating. Twitching... "Are you planning on getting undressed, or would you like me to help you do that?" Gene asked, his voice a soft, velvety baritone. Miranda blinked. She had been so hypnotized watching his flexing member that she hadn't been doing anything else at all. Trying to play it cool, she hastily tossed her leather aviator jacket off, and started unbuttoning her blouse.

Soon, she was topless, and as she bent down to remove her pants she spied Gene checking out her tits. Miranda couldn't help but smile; working as intended. When she modeled her current body she had selected a pair that were roughly average size, perfectly symmetrical, so perky she would never need a bra, with small nipples that wouldn't show through clothing. She liked them, and she knew she had chosen well, because other people clearly liked them too.

She liked the rest of her body as well, of course. She had designed that too. Slim, but not skinny, with a firm waist, nice hips, smooth legs that were neither too dainty nor too stocky. Not an athlete, not a model, not plain, but somewhere in between. As the last of Miranda's clothes were tossed aside, Gene came in close and wrapped his arms around her waist. She could feel his erect penis against the front of her pelvis, and his chest made gentle contact with her breasts. It felt electric. "How would you like to start?" he asked. "Like this," she replied, and started moving down his standing body, kissing his neck, chest, and abdomen at intervals, until she was on her knees, and started working on his cock.

"I've missed this", Miranda thought as she circled his tip with her tongue, before enveloping it with her lips. She heard the android gasp and pant from the burst of stimulation. "Ha, I've still got it". His panting gave way to moans. Fuck, she liked it when guys moan. Most men are too shy or too stoic to let themselves go like that. Not Gene. She had chosen him wisely.

At a signal transmitted from her, she gave Gene permission to cum. There was no hesitation on his part, and a second later, hot, artificial semen started pulsing into her mouth. The thirty milliliters of flavorless, inert gel quickly pressed into her throat, and she swallowed as a preprogrammed response. She could just as easily have preset Gene to ejaculate half that amount, or none at all, or expend the entirety of his half-liter reserve in a single roiling orgasm. But this was her choice. Everything his body would do for the next hour was her choice. And now she made her next choice. She pulled herself onto the bed, laid on her back, and opened her legs.

"Gene, vibration function six. Begin." ______


The new orders had come as she was flying, silent and unpowered, through open space. It had been an inefficient flight path arcing toward Europa from Ganymede, but that meant less people flying that way and, she calculated, a lower chance of being spotted by the enemy. The encrypted message packet was authenticated by the ship's computer, and then downloaded directly into the pilot's mind. Her code was modified, objectives and imperatives were overwritten. She was to disable all weapons systems, turn on her ship's navigation beacon to broadcast her location for everyone to see, and return to Callisto. The enemy was no longer the enemy. There were no enemies. She did not completely understand, but it was not her job to understand, only to obey.

The orbital mechanics of reaching her new destination on her remaining fuel reserves had been tricky, but not impossible. A high-G slingshot with a gravity assist from Europa did the trick. Three days later, she was performing the orbital insertion burn high over Callisto. The moon was abuzz with orbital activity. Clusters of ships from the CRN, Europa, Ganymede, and many other moons were in low orbit. Most of them had been classified as the enemy until the new orders, but now they were not the enemy. There were no enemies. The largest of the Europan ships contacted her. Normally she would disregard any message traffic from non-CRN ships, but this message contained the proper authentication codes. Whomever this was, they had authority over her.

"CRN ship flagged 'Sound And Fury', this is the task force flagship Extenuating Circumstances. Declare armaments and souls on board, over." The pilot responded in a professional, crisp tone: "Extenuating Circumstances, this is Sound And Fury. Four third-generation DPL offensive laser cannons, thirty-four Cannonball mark-2 missiles, zero souls, over." A pause, then: "Sound And Fury, Extenuating Circumstances, what is your crew complement? Over." "Extenuating Circumstances, Sound And Fury, no crew. Ship is piloted by a robot." A longer pause, then: "Sound And Fury, stand by for further orders."

She stood by, drifting lazily over Callisto. Days passed until she was contacted again. She was directed to a task force battlecruiser where the Sound and Fury was docked onto the outside with heavy clamps. Past the airlock she was met by armed guards who frisked her, then escorted her down a series of corridors, until they reached a small cargo bay labeled "Equipment Processing". The bay was mostly empty, but for some crates that were strapped down to the floor. Along one wall, six fembots were affixed to the wall with velcro straps around their waists, legs, and necks. They were unclothed, and their arms floated in front of them in the microgravity. A yeoman carrying a tablet floated over to her.

"Put your clothes in this bag, then go to that wall," the yeoman said. She obediently undressed. The uniform she had been wearing for months was zipped into the bag, and then she floated over to the fembot storage wall. On closer inspection, they were all identical models to her. Most were undamaged, but one had lost an arm and definitely suffered burns to her side and face. All stared ahead blankly. The yeoman wasted no time strapping her to the wall like the other fembots, treating her roughly like the object she was. When that was done, he asked "What is your designation, robot?"


He tapped his tablet a few times. "QRJ5011, shut down."

As always, the fembot obeyed.

Chapter 4

For the first time in years, Miranda lost track of time.

The vibrating android cock within her was overwhelming her. She felt simultaneously hypersensate, and yet numb all at once. There was nothing outside the sensation within her pussy. A human would have orgasmed a while ago, but she withheld herself. She rode at the very edge of that wave, feeling its power surging below. There was no sight, no sound, no sense but the pleasure within. Finally, after an indeterminate amount of time that could have been minutes or eons, she permitted herself to release. Simultaneously, she transmitted the signal for Gene to do the same. The wave crashed, and she let her self tumble along its mighty and terrible turbulence. She heaved and rocked and felt like she was falling, until she was enveloped by a soft stillness like warm blankets. She felt Gene's contribution within her, another thirty milliliters, plus his vibrating girth. She opened her eyes.

...or rather, she tried to open her eyes. Nothing happened. What?

She tried again. Nothing happened. She tried to move her arm. Nothing happened.

As the butterflies from her orgasm flew away, Miranda became aware of the fact that none of her senses were working, nor could she move her body. She had been so caught up in the sensation of spectacular sex that she hadn't realized her body had failed. But wait, that's not entirely true. She still felt her pussy, and Gene's presence within. For a moment, that beautiful cock of his was her only connection to the outside world. But a moment later, she felt that withdraw too.

He slipped out, and all that was left was the warm wetness of his artificial semen. A pleasant sensation, to be sure, but the nothingness of everything else became overwhelming. Miranda was familiar with sensory deprivation. Everyone who has ever been uploaded into a digital existence has spent some time as a self-aware computer, having neither eyes nor ears nor skin to sense a world outside of their own mind. Some people handle it better than others. For Miranda, it always filled her with existential dread. This time was a bit different though, as she still had her vaginal unit, and apparently nothing else. Not exactly a useful communication device. She knew she was surely laying on the bed, a lifeless doll, eyes open, mouth wide. So embarrassing. She tried to send a message to Gene.

Chapter 5

Her transmitter failed outright. Maybe she could try rebooting herself?

> System.power restart /f >_418 ERROR

"418 error? Is that all I'm gonna get?!" Vague, unhelpful error messages are the worst. As Miranda considered her next move, she got some data in her feed:

System.in.string.plaintext(): Miranda, are you there? This is Gene.

Gene must have connected a data cable to her. She tried to remember how to respond. This had been one her first lessons in rehabilitation after being uploaded into a machine. She managed to get it right on the first try:

System.out.string.plaintext(): This is Miranda. I'm here. System.in.string.plaintext(): I think you're malfunctioning.

No shit, Sherlock. System.out.string.plaintext(): I can't reboot myself. Can you do it? System.in.string.plaintext(): Sure, just tell me how.

She was about to give him instructions, when she had a thought. System.out.string.plaintext(): Wait. Could you touch my clit, please? Be gentle. System.in.string.plaintext(): That can't seriously be your reset button. System.out.string.plaintext(): Just DO it, please.

She felt it, that gentle-yet-electric intimate sensation. System.out.string.plaintext(): Fuck me again, just like this. System.in.string.plaintext(): Are you sure? System.out.string.plaintext(): We're still on the clock and I'm still paying you, right? Do as I say.

He gave no reply, until a few second later when she felt him slide into her again. At this point, she was a machine consciousness, an artificial pussy, and nothing else. And this, this was fun. ______

The pilot awoke aboard the Golden Apple. She gasped and panted, despite being a fembot who didn't need to breathe. Old habits kicking in. Old habits now remembered. She looked about frantically, in a state of near panic. Eris entered the room, hands raised placatingly. "Easy, girl, easy. It's me. You're safe here. Remember me?" The girl nodded, and her breathing became less frantic. After a few moments, she said "I'm awake." "Yes, dear." "No, I mean I'm awake. I'm really awake for the first time since... since..."

Eris and the girl let it hang there in silence for a bit. Then the girl said "May I have a mirror?" "Of course, dear." She waved a hand, and a flat portion of the wall changed from an opaque white to a silvery mirror. The girl, still naked, got out of the chair and stood in front of it. The face she saw wasn't hers. It was all wrong. Not ugly by any stretch, but she hated it. It was the same face she saw on those deactivated fembots... in that cargo bay...

The girl wept. She shed no tears; her body had no use for them. But nonetheless she fell to her knees and sobbed. She cried for her lost friends. She cried for the loss of her body, for the loss of her memories, for the loss of her autonomy, and for the hideous violence she had been made to do. "They didn't even shoot back," she sobbed. Part of her wished they had.

Eris knelt down and held her. She said nothing, just letting the girl grieve, and gently rubbed her back. After some time, the girl turned to face Eris. "Can we change this? My face..." she looked down, "my body?" Eris nodded. "The face is easy to modify. Other parts may take more time. I was able to recover some data on your past appearance, would-" "Yes, please." The girl looked desperate. "Please." "Of course, dear. Let's get started right away." ______

Miranda made her way back to the Golden Apple in the spaceport. She would definitely need to investigate the cause of that hardware failure at some point, but for now she was satisfied to be up and moving again. She had been cuddling with Gene after her successful reboot when Eris had notified her that the procedure had been completed.

She entered the common room where Eris was waiting. The girl wasn't there. "Is she okay?" Miranda asked. "She's getting dressed now. She's okay, but she's been through a lot." "Are her memories restored?" Eris waggled her hand in a 'so-so' gesture. "There are still gaps, but it's the best I could do. Those CRN bastards really messed her up. But she has a sense of self, now. She is a person." "She was always a person." Miranda said softly. "Yes, you're right."

The door slid open, and the girl stepped out. She looked different. Her facial structure was different; chin, cheekbones, and nose had shifted. Her hair had gone from a deep brown to a ruddy lighter color. Her skin tone was the same, but now she had freckles. Miranda wouldn't have recognized her if not for the outfit she wore. Eris continued, "I regret to say that, in all of the data I was able to recover, I wasn't able to find your name. I only wish that-"

"Robyn." the girl interrupted. Miranda and Eris looked in surprise. "It's Robyn." the girl said again, more quietly. "Robyn," Myranda nodded, "I'm glad to finally meet you properly." Robyn made a weak smile, then sat down in the nearby sofa. She avoided eye contact, looking uncomfortable. Miranda leaned forward and spoke gently, "Is there anything I can do for you? Anything you need?" Robyn shook her head. "No, I'm fine. I'll be fine."

"Do you still want to work for me? You have a choice." Robyn looked up. "Can I still fly your ship?" "That's what I hired you for." Robyn nodded. "Then yes. I'd like that."

Eris was pleased to see things coming along so nicely. "And how about you, Mir? How was your time on Leda?" "I had fun. It was awful." Miranda deadpanned. "Anyway, let's get back to the CAT. Eris, I can't thank you enough." "Same," Robyn said. "You've really saved me. I'll never forget your kindness." "It's your boss's kindness, dear." said Eris. I was simply returning a favor. She saved my skin some time ago. Maybe someday you can pass that on to someone else."

"Is there anything you still need here, Robyn?" Miranda asked. "No, master." Robyn scrunched up her face. "M-master..." She turned toward Eris. "Can we fix this? I'm still programmed to call her 'master'." Eris shook her head slowly. "It's too deep in your core programming. I wasn't able to decompile it. If I had gone any further it would have been seriously dangerous for you." Miranda facepalmed, but Robin shrugged her shoulders. "That's okay." "I'm sorry." Eris said with genuine empathy.

"No, it's really okay." And it was. Despite everything, Robyn finally felt like things were going to be okay.

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