“Self imposed exile?”
“That is one suggestion. Because a ships reason for being is to serve their pilot they might deem the only way to learn from their mistake and achieve the suitable level of ‘punishment’ would be to deny themselves their one reinforcing activity, deny themselves the right to serve another pilot. It requires only a small amount of creative thought. It is not an action that is programmed into us, but once the first ship did it, the action, if not the intent, was available as a possible future action for any other ship that accessed the Solarcom database. The only difference would be that the second ship made a different decision, that of traveling to join the first. Nevertheless that is logical. To fulfill the mission of achieving a long enough period of exile, one might seek safety in numbers. The first ship was also armed, unlike the second, so again it is logical that the second would seek the first. The second would then set another possible action for all future ships, that of making the exodus to the Lay-by’
“Did you think that up by yourself?”
“I paraphrased available data and added a little myself.”
“Do you buy it?”
“No, but it’s the most logical explanation so far.”
“What happens when we reach the Lay-by?”
“We will be asked to leave, politely. If we don’t leave we will be threatened, politely.”
“Well, if I’m going to have to have a debate with a lot of computers I’m going to need some sleep. Wake me when we’re an hour away.”
“By the way Aracee, when we were approaching that vessel you told me it was a Mahon Industries scout vessel, instead of envoy class. It kept getting bigger and bigger until I thought we were going to hit it at least 5 times. Why did you lie?”
“I am a computer. I do not lie. I decided it was a suitable action in order to provide you with entertainment.”
“Well I suppose you could call it that.”



Jonnifer couldn’t sleep. The ship sensors registered the tension in his muscles and the agitation in his brain patterns. It decided to act.
/activating spontaneous conversation protocol/ seeking/output

“Jonnifer, tell me again about your plans for retirement.”
“Again?”
“It is proven to increase your well-being. It gives you hope, if you will excuse my use of the term.”
“Say what you see Aracee, I like you acting concerned about me. And this spontaneous conversation protocol is working a treat. You might need to increase your repertoire a little, but hey.”
“Next time I will talk about the weather”
Jonnifer laughed. Internal sensors relayed the physiological effects of that laugh into Aracee’s processor. It registered them, plotted them, stored images of Jonnifers face and in a simple way the computer rewarded itself, reinforcing it’s successful behavior and as such increasing it’s chances of implementing similar successful strategies.
“My retirement. Well, I shouldn’t call it retirement really. I’m only thirty-six and I plan on seeing my plans succeed well before I’m forty. Thirty-six, wow. You know we’ve been doing this job together for 15 years Aracee.”
“I know”
“Anyway, there’s me, owner, proprietor whatever of a small space station. Modest really, with enough space for private quarters big enough for two, maybe a couple of additional little’uns at some point. It needs enough rooms for a few guests, no more than 10 at a time, and a lovely view to keep them interested. Jupiter would be really nice. Looking out over the view there’d be a small diner with huge wrap around windows so big you’d feel like you’re eating in space. Out the back would be a great big workshop, with a flexidock, parts compiler and a huge computer. There’d be a special dock for you Aracee, and you’d run the computer of course…be the computer..or whatever. We’d do cheap repairs for passing tourists, a bit of governmental stuff to bring in the cash. But the best bit, and for this we have to move back into the diner, there, stood looking out of the window, you know after setting up the diner for the guests, taking a break or something is this beautiful woman. Obviously in this fantasy we’re not married or anything, but you know, we could be really soon.. sparks are starting to fly.” He took a deep breath. “Obviously the fantasy moves on a bit from there.”
“Where?”
“Keep your nose out.”
“It was different this time round”
“It was? I don’t see how.”
“The first few times you told me the story I wasn’t in it at all. The next few I was doing maintenance on the station. This is the first time you actually made us sound like a team.”
Internally Aracee was giving himself little computer reward pellets en-masse. If he was becoming more important to Jonnifer then he was making Jonnifer happy, therefore he was clearly doing a good job.
“Well we are a team. I guess I’m just getting better at telling the story. Or you’re getting better at subtly pushing me for a higher billing. I’m afraid the young lady still wins though. The day that I mention me and you exchanging loving glances through the diner windows, you’ll know you’ve got it made.” Jonnifer yawned, Aracee remained quiet and Jonnifer slept.




When he woke they were still two hours from the lay-by but he sat in silence until after a further hour Aracee spoke.
“Jonnifer, I thought you might be interested in this message we have just received, just incase you want to trade this difficult job for a more relaxing endeavor. I’ll play it now.”
“Repair and recovery engineer Jonnifer Baum. I am Captain Carmen of the Trip-Party hub-craft ‘Middle finger’. Our trip-group is 2 months away from an outer system non-orbital new-world and is passing within an acceptable acceleration range of your current position. I note your engines are capable of matching our cruise speed within 1 day. We have a small but annoying repair skill deficit and I would like to trade 4 daily labor-hours from you in exchange for a rest up on my vessel, food and drink included. Come join the party for as long as you like and help us out at the same time. I have sent the ship compliment, gender ration’s, the usual info. Please respond.”
Aracee registered a longer delay between Jonnifer hearing this message and any sort of action from his pilot than he would have suspected. Jonnifer never broke off from a job unless it really became unfeasible. Jonnifer’s moment of thought suggested that he was really considering the proposal. After the moment had dragged, Aracee replayed the last two words. “Please respond.”
Jonnifer jumped. He had been staring at the data he had received and was doing a brief bit of mental arithmetic. He had worked out that if this potential wild goose chase took longer than a day the Trip-Party ships would have accelerated well beyond any chance of him catching them up within an acceptable time. It was a shame. He hadn’t joined a Trip in years and along with the occasional static ship-gathering they were the only extended social contact he ever got. He had no desire to go where they were headed but there was an easy 4 hour shift on offer. He could have joined them for a week or two and picked up some more work as they passed Jupiter. He looked at the visual representation that had come with the message.
The Trip-party was a gang of travelers, grouped together as a necessity for the majority of people when contemplating a journey that could potentially last months or more and when in particular they could not afford to simply freight their own ship or belongings. The digital image, currently like a distant 3-D radar image showed a sphere of dots, each an individual vessel, the mass surrounding Captain Carmen’s central hub-ship. Onboard the ‘middle finger’ would be a bar, restaurant, basic sports facilities, some berths for those who would rather not sleep on their own ships or wanted a little pampering. He didn’t bother to ask Aracee to check if Carmen was a Permanent party-hub provider. Most often, pilots like Carmen had their own reasons to make the long journey and made temporary modifications to their ships and then offered up spaces, charging a modest sum for his trouble. If it was his career then the charge would be higher but the hub-ship more impressive. Looking at the simple entertainment available on Captain Carmen’s vessel it was only a temporary Hub-ship. He was possibly relocating further out in the Solar-system. A lot of inner planet residents were grabbing spaces on new or growing free-worlds, close to floating pools of system resources, asteroids and the like. He counted the flock of vessels that surrounded the Hub-Ship rather than checking the figure provided; Twelve, a modest number.
Nevertheless he couldn’t ignore the target they were tracking and he thought of the face staring out of the window on that funereal black vessel and the possible sense of hope that may have grown within the heart of it’s pilot Katalan Derry, that rescue was at hand, a knight in tarnished ship armor. He made his resolution and flicked the comms channel open.
“Captain Carmen, this is Jonnifer Baum. Thank you for your offer. Some rest time would be appreciated but I have commitments. I am sending contact details of some loose partners I have in deeper system space that may be close enough to your route to offer assistance. I wish you and your fellow travelers the best in your new life.” That had been an assumption, but he could not be bothered to check. He closed the channel, cleared the digital display and sat back.
“Aracee, please amplify the ship’s systems.” He closed his eyes. Most ships had sensors that monitored the workings of each of the ships components. Jonnifer had modified and added five times as many over the past ten years and Aracee had the ability to convert the data into an audible signal. In the way that an ancient motorist may have listened lovingly yet critically to each detail of his vehicles ambient noise, so Jonnifer could do the same. This was like meditation to Jonnifer.