“The term ‘slag’ originated some time after androids had started taking over most of the menial jobs on the Core worlds. Millions of humans were forced to either seek retraining in their careers or simply went on unemployment. This didn’t happen overnight of course, it was a slow process that took many decades and resulted in the longest recession in Federation history. The fall-out from having so many humans displaced led to all kinds of social and political unrest. Derogatory terms for androids were quite popular in those times. Slag seemed to be the one that most people adapted. It was quite easy to spit in anger.”
– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press
The Rashionu-sera made good time in getting to the edge of the Core. The Federation boundary was not marked on any star chart, but every starship Captain understood where it began.
Eighty-eight and Thirty-seven had made themselves useful in Engineering, helping to tweak the fusion drives enough to make their journey as quick as possible. The decrepit starship was holding together fine despite looking and feeling as if it would disintegrate into a million pieces at any moment.
Gareth returned to the dimly lit confines of engineering, looking for the black android. He found it wired directly into the ship’s central computer. Something about androids poking around inside the ship’s computer struck him as disconcerting.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The black android turned its head to acknowledge Gareth but did not immediately respond. Gareth gave it a few seconds before he spoke again, this time more irritated than before.
“Hey slag, answer me!”
Eighty-eight blinked its red eye lenses and then disconnected from the computer terminal. “We have arrived in Core space and the Captain wishes to see us.”
“Yeah, well let’s get moving. I don’t like to keep the wing-nut waiting.”
Eighty-eight stepped over a pile of junk and followed Gareth through the narrow corridor that led to the bridge. They passed over the storage bins that were filled with silicate rocks from Ocherva and over several empty containers. Gareth ducked into an alcove that passed into a loud, dimly lit room with lots of machinery that clanked and spun and whirled. Eighty-eight followed, having no idea what the was used for, but quickly deduced that Gareth intended to talk without being heard by prying ears.
“Look, me and the crew have been trying to destroy Two-three for months. We can’t get close enough to it without being blocked by its slag protectors. If you can help us take it out, I’ll take you straight to Selene.”
“I have been planning such an operation since we came on board. The ship’s computer will help us,” Eighty-eight said.
Gareth blinked and tilted his head. He was clearly confused by Eighty-eight’s initiative. “You’re already planning a mutiny?”
Gareth whistled loud enough to be heard plainly over the ambient noise of the machine room.
Eighty-eight waited for the man to stop before continuing.
“It is clear to me that Two-three is damaged. The other androids have been programmed to follow it exclusively. During the last cycle, they tried to reprogram Thirty-seven and myself. But their efforts failed. How many humans are in this crew?”
Gareth counted on his fingers, ticking off names and or descriptions of the people he knew on board. “Maybe thirteen, including myself.”
Eighty-eight nodded its round head. “Will the crew follow you or will you need to ‘crack heads or kill someone’ to get their allegiance?”
The android made the Pirate Way sound so primitive and brutal. Not hard to do, because it was both primitive and brutal. Gareth shook his head. “This crew is as crazy as their Captain. All I’d have to do is dole out them Redbacks you fellas brought on board and they would follow me anywhere.”
“Including to Selene?”
Gareth winced. “Yeah, including Selene.”
Eighty-eight looked right at Gareth. Its red glowing eye lenses, menacing in the dim light of the machine room. “What assurances do I have that you won’t destroy me after I destroy your Captain?”
Gareth pulled his head back, slightly taken aback by the question. He had never had to bargain with a rational Silicant before. For better or worse, he decided to treat it like any other human.
“You have my word. Nothing else.”
Eighty-eight stared at the human with unblinking lenses. Gareth didn’t waver. He spit something dark to the deck and stared right back. “I have never trusted the word of any human. Don’t fail me.”
Gareth shrugged, turned around and started to leave. Eighty-eight grabbed his soft shoulder and halted him. Gareth turned his head back over his shoulder in an effort to see the black android. He was prevented from turning by a strong metal grasp.
“Don’t. Fail. Me.”
Gareth nodded his scraggy chin. The android could have easily snapped him in half or otherwise broken his weaker, flesh covered bones. Eighty-eight let go of him and Gareth shook his shoulders to get out a kink and continued on his way.
* * *
Captain Two-three limped around the bridge on a leg that was too short. It had been damaged in a skirmish years before and was never replaced. The shiny silver color of its polished round head reflected the single light source against a far wall. The short leg dragged a bit on the metal deck as the android spun around in a tight circle. It had been taking hits from the electromagnet and was burning off excess power surges. It uttered a combination of electronic gibberish and scattered words.
Eighty-eight found it hard to watch a fellow android deteriorate as if it had a degenerative disease.
“Watch out! It’s got a blaster,” Gareth said, ducking down behind some equipment racks.
Eighty-eight was slow to follow and barely missed being shot by the insane android Captain. “We can’t deal with it when it’s been hitting the juice and spinning like that. Especially if it’s armed.”
Eighty-eight agreed. “It does this often?”
Gareth smiled. “You see now why I haven’t tried to kill it sooner.”
They listened to the incoherent rants and the dragging of metal on metal for a while before it slowly started to wind down like a spring wound child’s toy.
“Wait until it drops the blaster,” Gareth said. He peeked out from behind the helm station. The Captain was slowing down, its turns languid and the blaster dangling loosely in its metal fingers.
“Just a few more seconds,” Gareth whispered to Eighty-eight.
Two-three dropped its blaster to the metal deck and stopped turning in circles. Its voice trickled off to a low murmur. Gareth watched patiently and the metal man seemed to run down its batteries and come to a complete halt.
“Okay, it’s over,” Gareth said, standing up.
Eighty-eight stood up from behind the helm and tilted its round head curiously.
The Captain had apparently turned itself off. Its eye lenses were dark and it made no sound at all. Eighty-eight could detect energy in the android’s power cells, but it was only using the power to run coolant lines and lower level programming.
“How long does it remain still?” Eighty-eight asked.
Gareth scratched the whiskers on his neck and spit something on the floor again. “Hard to say.”
He picked up his blaster and pointed it at the Captain’s head. Eighty-eight put up a hand to stop him from pulling the trigger.
The Captain came back to life and turned its eye lenses at Gareth.
“You boy! Get over here and free my leg”
Gareth holstered his pistol and did as he was told.
Eighty-eight approached cautiously. When it was near enough to the Captain’s blaster, it kicked the weapon away from them and sent it skidding to the far wall.
Two new androids came on deck. One of them picked up the blaster and pointed it at Eighty-eight.
“Take the slag to the machine shop and remove its leg. I’m tired of walking in circles,” Two-three said.
Gareth freed the Captain’s leg and backed away looking at Eighty-eight. The android with the blaster knocked the weapon over Eighty-eight’s head and motioned for it to leave the bridge. The sound made a dull clank. Eighty-eight actually flinched from the blow, even though it did not damage its already dented head. Recollections of being beaten by a previous owner were still active in the android’s memory. The experience had been so demeaning to it that the black android recoiled whenever anyone beat it with anything metal.
Eighty-eight grabbed the blaster by its barrel and flung it across the room. Then it pushed the startled android pirate aside and started for the door. Gareth stood by helplessly, not knowing how to help the Silicant. Two-three drew a palm sized device from its side and pointed in the direction of the fleeing Silicant.
Eighty-eight never made it to the door. It locked up and forward momentum sent it to the deck with a lifeless thud of metal on metal until it crashed against the bridge wall. Two-three started laughing insanely and took another hit from his electromagnet.
“Take that slag to the machine shop, now!” the Captain bellowed.
Gareth wasted no time dragging Eighty-eight off the bridge to get away from the Captain. Outside in the hall, two more androids took over for him and hauled their fellow bot to the machine shop. Gareth let them go and headed back to engineering. His chances of taking out the Captain and taking over the ship were now diminished.
With sentience, comes insanity. I really love the idea of an insane Silicant. I also spent considerable time coming up with the name Twenty-three. I think the number has long been associated with bad things. This Wikipedia entry will get you started.
I chose Eighty-eight’s name based on various myths associated with that number.