Shore Leave

The galley was crowded with the dirty plates of young sailors gone to bed, sliding into their slots like pudding cups and soup cups and tuna sandwiches in a cafeteria vending machine. They were mostly good boys. As good as wayward young men can be. There were bits of sauce and a few slung noodles painting the tables. But the table biota would soon digest them and go to sleep themselves, retracted into the subfloor chamber where the leftovers and slop went. The biota accounted for the messiness; she would soon miss the splotches of food that sounded in her head like a cacophony of irreverent taunts, goofiness and laughter.

She looked out the nearby porthole. The neon blue eye of a flux whale blinked. She held up a palm and blinked a friendly yellow neon triangle back. The ship hummed for a few seconds with the happy flux whale purr. Then she filled the sub-chamber with leftovers for the organic machinery, which didn’t care for what it ate as long as it was carbon-based and not on the Garcia list of incompatible foods, which included humans especially and living organisms more generally. Everything ate on the ship, except for her. She sighed and wondered what it would be like. Yes, her mouth could eat food — it was good for morale when the boys missed mother — but the solo cybernetic crew only understood taste as a concept. She did not need. Or, she was not programmed to. Still, the feeling grew in her to want increasingly. She put the substances in her mouth, but they never did much. She could detect all components: nothing dangerous, nothing spoilt.

The Omega submarine was a good-looking ship — if you like cucumbers with portholes. The designer was a little eccentric, favoring the 1960s of Old America. Here, on Verduga 10, the waxy green cylinder camouflaged the ship well. It was a fortunate compatibility between artistic caprice and function. The addition of a slight electric shock field left it to float among the sea fauna without the threat of being eaten. It had been her only crew assignment after cybernetics were replaced by Org-o-Nets for all the higher and more human-integrated jobs. “All wires and flesh” they said, “Slipshod genetic programming with unpredictable side effects.” Some of the flesh components had issues integrating the synth as they aged — developed malfunctions, like fear, that inhibited their functioning. Luckily, not for Psyrr. She was a nursery model cyborg and her duties as crewman for the boys continued her usefulness. Increasingly, attachment had become an issue for long-term nannies pre-identified as cybernetic. Newer gens were coded for responsibility, but not care.

The idea of the Omega was to provide a kitschy camp feel with the structure of the Old America military, to help problematic young men. Back in Old America, the navy once meant war subs. Now, they floated the largest aqua-sphere in six solar systems battling the malaise of teenagers suffering from NDSD Syndrome (Noise Distraction and Sound Dependency Syndrome). There were other treatments — Zentopia, the planet where all things were reduced to white noise, weather sounds, and Om. All organic. Omega was an approach for the more urban children, who needed fabricated structure mixed with nature. Psyrr was teacher, mother, counselor, and captain to the boys.

It was a quiet night, but Psyrr did not want to chamber down to full regen mode — quicker, but all nonessential neural functionings in deep sleep mode. She sat in the regeneration room alertly, looking out the porticos. The night blooming coral were swaying. The starfish were scintillating. “It is hard to tell what was here on Verduga before the scientists,” she noted, “Humans bring things that remind them of home — and change them.” The squishy sounds of passing mannay herds flapping their flanges and opening their gills swallowed the room. They would port tomorrow for some sand and play. The older boys would have shore leave, going into the arcades connecting the aquasphere emergence points to the the space docks.

After charging, Psyrr walked into each room and checked the bios of every boy, even though all the indicators showed clear deep sleep. The nanoids were clouding iridescently around them, coating the skin and entering the lungs to repair and genetically enhance their destinies. She ran over their delta waves, looked at their dream requests, and stroked the head of each naval explorer.

“Tomorrow,” she thought. With that, she finally grew tired enough for deeper recharge. She packed a small bag and tucked it neatly by the main hatch.

As the boys left with the Org-o-net land-emissaries — in teams and pairs — Psyrr waved goodbye. The violet sky sparkled. Rockets zipped across the sky. She watched them lace the sky a few times, noted the next departure and grabbed her bag. Stroking Omega, she pulsed the runes in her hand. Omega gave a deep moan and shook. It would be alright. Omega would not leave until Psyyr’s replacement arrived. The signal would go out just at the end of the leave. Psyrr thanked Omega and set off. Some things would understand. Others, the humans, would mark her malfunctioning and expense the loss as broken equipment.

“There is always a place for a good au pair.” And Psyrr left Omega for the first time in three centuries, heading for the sky.

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