“Can I ask you something?”

Anny flicked a few of the overhead switches, and with their course effectively set, she leaned back in her seat.

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“You don’t… talk much about your past.”

A smirk appeared on her lips.

“Strictly speaking, that isn’t a question. What do you want to know?”

“Why didn’t you want to go back to the station? Your dad seemed happy to see you again.”

She sighed, “It’s just tough. I never felt like I belonged there, you know? It always felt so small, so tight, like I couldn’t breathe. I left when I was sixteen to see the rest of the system and I never exactly planned to look back. I call Mom and Dad for holidays and that’s pretty much enough.”

“And your mom, she’s…?”

“Off exploring somewhere. She never settled down long enough to even marry Dad, let alone stay on that tiny station. Guess I’m a lot like her in that way.”

“Are you going to leave SYMM some day, then? Take off for something new?”

“I’m not sure,” Anny admitted, “I like when we can help people and we get to travel a lot. So I don’t think I’m going anywhere any time soon.”


Anny had only met top brass from SD a handful of times, they rarely left Central Command on Space Station One, and her father was a small fish in the grand scheme of things. If they’d seemed merely snobbish and irritatingly above it all, the woman here was all but irritated to even be aboard a station is lowly as Eight. When Jayce shook her arm heartily, she looked down as if expecting some leftover muck or infectious disease to cling there, brushing off the sleeve of her fresh-pressed uniform that glinted with polished silver buttons.

Grand Overcaptain Captain Mitchell had the pallid, almost translucent skin of a lifelong spacer who had never heard of ‘shore leave’ or time for sun lamps with a shock of lank blonde hair to match. Her eyes were the sharp, pale fire of a leader who had packed away the last of her heart long before Command School and her cheerless lips were pressed into a hard, thin line.

WISR seemed to have learned his lesson about civilians saluting, he folded his arms behind his back, fingers twitching nervously.

“Let’s get this over with, G.C. Lockley,” she grumbled as she lead the way to the Engineering Wing.

She had to wait at least a full minute – checking her watch as her air of authority waned by the second – for Haskell to pretend the doors hadn’t been opened in quite some time. Finally, the rusted airlocks creaked aside with no whoosh of hot air, no hum of massive machines, not a single status light twinkling in the dark.

Grand Overcaptain Captain Mitchell didn’t say a word, twirling on a heel and stomping off to find the nearest intact interface panel.

“AI,” she demanded the moment the device recognized her handprint, “Play back security footage dating to the computer’s delivery.”

“Certainly, ma’m,” Haskell replied, thankfully without a trace of irony.

He must have been listening and watching, planning ahead to edit the video. Aside from the odd critter scurrying across the stained linoleum, not a single soul seemed to have come near the construction bay.

You. What is your name and your rank on this vessel?” she roared next at Anny with an accusing finger, eyes blazing.

Anny merely pushed her hand away with a gentle shove.

“My name is Anny Lo- Lamora. Agent of SYMM.”

“Agent, I demand you have this rogue AI supply the true security tapes immediately and submit it to the PAX program.”

“Actually, G.O.C. that’s precisely why we’re here,” WISR said, “We can assure you that what you’ve seen is the complete and utter truth. The AI is no rogue.”

“How dare you speak to me. I want her arrested, and that- that thing dismantled.” she said, whipping around to face Jayce.

“I ain’t doin’ any such thing,” the Grand Captain replied, “Take me in all ya like, but you leave my- her out of it. She ain’t done nothing.”

“Goodness, you seem rather invested in this thing. I wonder why,” Anny said in an irritatingly innocent-sounding tone as she pulled out her phone.

“I will remind you that while SD nor SYMM represent the Central Government of Planets-”

“Which is why I imagine you’ve been moving a dangerous, likely illegal machine across the system without their knowledge. This wasn’t a commision by SYMM, and I know this because I asked them.”

She turned her phone around to reveal a message from Nikolae. 

i’ve no idea what your on about but thats deff against the law

Have a nice day! 🙂

“You were going to present it to SYMM as a prototype and then have them lobby to the Central Government to make it legal.”

A pale hand reached for a waist holster. Before Captain Mitchell could even touch metal, Captain Jayce swept in, putting himself between Anny, WISR, and the Grand Overcaptain.

“By all means, try it,” he growled, “See if you can outdraw me. See if three bodies don’t put a target on your back. See if the government ain’t interested then.”

Captain Mitchell ground her teeth, icy eyes narrowing, “This isn’t over,” she sneered, pointing between Anny and the Captain.

Duke and Gregor were nearly bowled over as she pushed past them. They shrugged at each other before following not far behind.

“Well. That sure was something,” Jayce said.

“We did it!” Anny cheered, holding up her hands for a double high-five from WISR, “We took down the machine!”

“That’s me girl!”

Before she could stop herself, she threw her arms around Jayce’s middle.

“I’m sorry I was so mean earlier, Dad,” she said into his threadbare Captain’s jacket.

“Hey, it’s okay. I know how you hate being here.”

“That’s no reason for acting like that. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry too, Angel-girl, I shoulda told you my intentions before making you come over here. You know, I think about you every day, wondering how your job is going, if you’re doing okay. Guess I shouldn’t be worried, considering how you handled things today.”

“I’ll- I’ll message you more often, I promise!”

“And you,” he grabbed WISR up in one arm of his big embrace, “You take care of my Angel-girl, do you hear me?”

“I get the feeling she can take care of herself,” the Android grumbled but a withering glare from the captain had him shrinking back and stuttering, “I mean- uh- yessir…”

The overhead lights flickered on and off and a polygon face appeared on the interface screen not too far away from the three of them. 

“No hug for me?” Haskell asked. 

“Would if I could! Thanks for all of your help today,” Anny replied. 

WISR piped up, “So uhh, I meant to ask, is ‘Angel’ just something your dad calls you or…?”

Jayce tilted his head to the side, “What now?”

“Well, I assume her name is ‘Anne’ or something to that effect?”

“Is that why ya keep calling her that? You serious? I thought it was ‘cause you two-”

“What?” WISR leapt back in alarm.

“No way!” Anny shouted, “it’s just the name I use at work!”

“It ain’t like some kinda cutesey…thing?”

“Not ever!”

“And here I thought I was the drama queen,” AI sighed, shaking his polygonal head from side to side.

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Captain Jayce didn’t look up from his beer, didn’t turn to face Anny or her android shadow sitting just behind her on a bar stool. He took another noisy gulp of the ale, foam clustering in his moustache and beard.

“You did what?” he finally growled.

“It had to be shut down,” she replied, “PAXing is wrong, and doing it to hundreds of androids at once?”

“That machine was worth millions of credits, maybe even hundreds of millions. If they find out that it was destroyed under my care- when they find out-!”

“They won’t,” WISR assured him, “We worked hard to make it look like a freak accident, there’s no way they can pin the blame on you.”

“Afraid for your job, weren’t’cha?” Jayce asked around another sip of beer.


“That big ol’ monster was supposed to replace the Agents of SYMM. It goes live, your career goes down.”

“That’s not-! What? That’s not what I was worried about!” she cried.

Anny turned to WISR, alarmed to see his usual smile replaced with a long, flat line and punctuated with an apostrophe of a quirked eyebrow. He was wondering the same thing.

“Have you seen what PAXing does to an android?” she asked, turning back to her father, “I have. It’s- it’s terrible, awful, possibly the worst thing you could ever do to a person. Imagine all the times you’ve felt sad or angry or just upset. Sometimes it was needed or justified, if someone messed up something big on the station you were supposed to feel angry, right? Now imagine someone came in and told you that you couldn’t feel bad about it, all you were allowed to feel is happy? Just happy all the time? Even if someone was doing something wrong, or hurting you, or hurting someone you cared about, every ‘bad’ reaction was taken away. You weren’t allowed to feel anything any more, you couldn’t be you anymore.

“That’s what the PAX does. It takes away everything that makes an android the person they are. Our methods, our algorithms and machine learning taught them to be just like us, and now we’re ripping that away from them and it’s not okay!”

Captain Jayce didn’t say a word, seemingly more interested in the soggy cardboard coaster he spun around and around in a circle.

“You make a compelling argument, I’ll give ya that. Gives me a lot to think on. Unfortunately, you got bigger problems right now. SD officials just landed, they’re looking for a pickup.”

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Getting in was easy enough, the door – although caked with unwashed grime and rust – slid open with Haskell’s help and a long, low groan.

The lights in the engineering hallway flickered restlessly like trapped moths, the floor was sticky with un-cleaned oil spills, the dust and dropped Cheese Poofs clinging to it.

Anny switched on the flashlight on her wristwatch, but almost wished she hadn’t. The walls didn’t fare much better than the floor. Something in the shadows skittered away from the light.

“Weeks? Looks like no one’s seen this place in months,” WISR noted.

“Dad’s really let this place go.”

Together, they made their way to the bay in the back of the corridor, the dull hum growing louder and louder as they grew closer.

Once, twice, three times the rusted gears and seldom-used airlock tried to pull apart, only to leave a gap of a few inches. Haskell was trying to get it to move, but the old doors just wouldn’t budge.

Anny reached into her back pocket for her knife, light trained on the door’s panel. It took a few tries, repositioning the wide, flat blade this way and that, before she wrenched it free.

Corroded components and wires chewed bare sparked, making Anny yelp and flinch away.

“Are you alright?”

“Y-yeah. Just surprised is all!”

Quickly, she worked the wires inside, snipping a few and twisting together others, more than once sending critters in the space scurrying.

“There we go!” she finally cried, wiping at her forehead with her wrist, “The motor’s deactivated, should be easy to open now!”

WISR shoved the two halves apart, the low hum becoming a deafening roar.

Only a few lights blinking in the shadows like distant stars were the only sign that there was something in the dark with them until the lights overhead came to life one by one.

A machine the size of a room, the size of a ship reached out further than she could see or even imagine. Heat radiated off of it in waves, plastering Anny’s hair to the back of her neck and burning at her cheeks. She could barely stand to look at it, she turned away.

“How are you going to take apart this whole entire thing?” she asked incredulously.

WISR’s grin didn’t drop a pixel.

“That’s my job,” he said, “Guard the door, Security is coming.”

She pulled the two halves of the door together behind her to make sure nothing looked out of place. Just as she snapped the panel shut when the thud of jackboots and the rattle of duty belts and gun holsters echoed down the hall.


One of the officer’s tugged off his helmet, revealing a curly mess of sandy brown helmet-hair.

“Locklear? Seriously?” the other cried.

“Gregor, Duke!” Shoulda known you two Junior Cadet kids would turn Sec.”

“What brings you here? Captain said you took off years back!”

She fished out the badge from where it tangled between here bag strap and jacket.

“Official business. Took up with the AI game.”

WISR rubbed his hands together, his trademark parenthetical smile growing to a gleeful letter D grin. Oh, this was going to be fun. Immediately, the system tried to reject his access, blocking out the connection from the wire in his wrist, but he was prepared for that.

The security surrounding it was robust, to be sure, and would be nearly impossible to get around, except for one thing. The Grand Captain was the kind of man who had zero time to care about passwords. ‘GUEST’, ‘ADMIN’, finally good old-fashioned ‘PASSWORD’ did the trick, and he was in.

Duke, the one still in full gear, took it from her hand and examined the holograms in the weak light.

“So you heard the alarm too?” Gregor asked.

Anny nodded, “My associate is another AI, he’s currently analyzing the system inside to make sure it wasn’t tampered with.”


Right. Classified. None of the three people standing around the hallway were supposed to know about it.

“Need-to-Know Basis.”

Now that WISR was inside the system, it was time to start breaking things. There were more elegant solutions, sure, but nothing was quite as satisfying – or time-efficient – as taking a rowhammer to the studs of this house of code until he found the load-bearer.

“We should probably report this to your father, he’s the Captain on duty and all,” Duke remarked.

Anny’s eyes went wide and she chewed on her lip as she frantically wracked her brain for an answer.

“You don’t want to do that!” she blurted out.

“Uh. What?”

“Dad’s real- real busy, y’know! He trusted me to take care of this himself and if you want to be the one to tell him that you don’t trust me or his judgement and that you think his daughter is incompetent, then be my guest! But you may want to put in a transfer order to another station first.”

The two guards exchanged nervous glances.

“Well. If you’ve got it covered…”

“Yeah, you are a professional now and all.”

WISR shook his head, the blue screen naming exactly what kind of FATAL ERROR that’d befallen the computer clearing from his monitor as he tugged out the connecting cable.

One by one, the lights snapped out, stars giving way to darkness, the whirring of the machine died away.

“Alright, well, we gotta get back to patrols,” Duke said.

“Nice seeing you again!” Greggor added with a wave as he turned away.

Anny took a deep breath, then another, with a heavy sigh of relief. Finally, once she was sure they were gone, she wrenched apart the door once again. WISR stumbled out, unsteady on his legs, she reached out to catch him before he truly fell.

“It’s done,” he pronounced.

“Are you okay?” she asked, “You’re burning up!”

She waved a hand towards his cooling vents, although she supposed that wasn’t really helping a whole lot.

“I’ll be alright.”

“Only problem is now we have to tell the Captain.”

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“He likes to keep us on a schedule, which is helpful. There have been far too many times under different AI where dinner has come out late or unfinished. Haskell may be a little harsh about it sometimes, but it’s nice to have a machine that cares.”

Anny snapped closed her phone.

“See? Everyone loves you! And honestly, do they make you work any harder than other places you’ve been?”

“I suppose you’re right,” the AI admitted, his vector face somber, “They treat me no more poorly than anyone else.”

“And they like you! They really do!”

His polygonal face perked up, “You’re right! And who am I to deny them my presence which they adore it so very much?”

“Exactly! So will you open engineering again so they can fix the station?”

The face retreated, vector lips pulled tight.

“I… I can’t. You must forgive me.”

“Why not? What’s in there that you don’t want anyone seeing?”

“I shouldn’t say, the Captain-”

Is my father. I know him, he won’t help you even if he wanted to. But I can. What’s this supercomputer no one will tell me about?”

Haskell sighed soundlessly, eyes downturned.

“It’s meant to be a mass-PAX machine. Network your AI in remotely and they’re ‘fixed’ instantly.”

The world spun as if the station planned to continue its orbit without her.

“Wh-what?” Anny stammered, “There’s no way Dad would-”

“He doesn’t know. He didn’t ask questions. This station is just one among many stops as it’s transported in secret across the system.”

“It’ll be the last, if I have anything to say about it.”

WISR stared at her with double-zero eyes.

“Anny, you can’t…”

“I can. I am.”

He grabbed her shoulder and tugged her aside. Haskell’s face tried to peek over them.

“What of your father’s career since you seem so keen to throw your own away? If this computer is destroyed on his watch, it would be the end of his command. Or do you really hate him after all?”

Anny rolled her lip in her teeth.

“I haven’t figured out a good solution yet, but there has to be a way. If they figure out how to PAX remotely, they won’t need agents like us any more. And I can’t let that- that thing continue to exist! PAXing is wrong.”

“That may be so but… What can we do?”

“We can put a stop to this machine. Here. Now. Maybe blow it up?”

“Would look bad on the Captain.”

“Accidental jettison? Never got delivered?”

“Still looks incompetent and there is such a thing as receipts.”

“It has to look really, actually accidental, huh? A freak of nature.”

She snapped her fingers as the idea hit her.

“WISR, can you hack something like that? Make it look like the system itself is unstable? Something that takes down the whole thing?”

“I can certainly try. But it’ll take some time.”

“And I can buy you some. Where is it being kept, Haskell?”

“In the construction bay. Been holding up station repairs for weeks, too.”

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Anny rapped her knuckles lightly on the sliding window at the Science department. Scientists made her nervous on a normal day. When she talked to them, it always felt like they were either staring through her like they’d rather be anywhere else, or they glared at her, analyzing twelve different things about her at once and they weren’t impressed.

On top of that, they likely had all kinds of embarrassing data from her upbringing as well. It was a recipe for disaster.

“Hello…?” she called aloud.

A lab assistant with a stainless steel clipboard and a serious expression who was clearly hoping to walk by unnoticed sighed and turned back for the window.


“We’re from SYMM,” Anny announced holding up her badge, “We’d like to ask the Scientists a few questions.”

The assistant frowned.


He reached for a button and the door slid open.

“But you must be very careful. There are some extremely delicate experiments being worked upon, the RD will visit nightmares hitherto undreamt of to one who dreams of disturbing them.”

WISR turned to Anny. Anny turned to WISR. An apostrophe of an arched eyebrow appeared on his screen as she rolled her lip trying not to laugh.

“Actually, can I ask you?” she wondered, turning back to the assistant, “What do you think of Haskell?”

Anny pointed her phone to him.

“That drama queen? I hope he gets taken care of soon or SD changes to a new one.”

“I like him!” another Scientist admitted, “He always says what’s on his mind. There’s such a thing as too polite and we’ve had enough of that, that’s for sure!”

The Chemist laughed until she snorted, “Love the guy! Really do! When he gets bored, he visits sometimes, always snarking about my work. Points out my mistakes before I see ‘em! Hell of a fella.”

Anny’s PDA beeped.

Dad: Can’t tell you anything about that, kiddo. Classified.

She shoved the device deep in a pocket.

“Feel free to let me know what the point of all this is at any time,” WISR remarked sardonically.

“We’re gathering evidence that the station staff really does like Haskell!”

“Is that… enough?”

“It’s a start. And for a prima donna like him, it’s a lot. C’mon. Let’s see what the Service staff has to say.”

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“YOU HAVE ARRIVED AT SPACE STATION 8. WELCOME ABOARD THE CONSTELLAR, the computerized voice of Anny’s ship announced as it docked with a loud hiss.

“This is a bad idea,” she complained.

WISR unbuckled his harness with an inhuman grace and far too much enthusiasm.

“Come now! It’ll be an adventure!”

Just outside the door was what she assumed was a lobby or lounge of some sort. Four ratty and ancient armchairs surrounded a scuffed coffee table marked with old cup rings and the leftovers of a ground-out cigarettes, stale smoke hanging in the air and clinging to the dingy carpet. In the corner, vending machines for SD brand snacks and smokes dimly glinted.

Leaning against one of the machines was a grizzled old man, a worn cowboy hat atop his head, a chunky cigar dangling out his gray-streaked beard. Even though it hung open over a loose gray t-shirt, the blue uniform of the Captain was unmistakable.

“My Captain!” WISR cried, giving a most dramatic salute from monitor head to waist.

Anny gave him a sharp elbow, and growled, “You’re a civilian. Civilians don’t salute.”

The Captain’s face lit up at that, he pushed himself off the vending machine and held out a friendly hand.

“There’s my Angel-girl, so good ta see ya again!”

She looked down, up, and ignored his offer.

“You would say that, father.”

Whipping back and forth, WISR’s glass face was a shocked pair of zeroes. 

“He’s your dad?”

“Unfortunately. Heard your station AI was giving you trouble?”

“…Aye, that’s why I called ya over. Forgive me terrible manners, I haven’t introduced m’self,” the Captain said, turning to the android, cheer instantly returning to his eyes, “I’m Captain Jayce Loacklear, Grand Captain of tha Constellar”

“WISR, her work partner.”

The men clasped forearms, Jayce’s accompanied by a hearty clap at the elbow.

“‘Grand Captain’, that’s quite a title,” the android remarked.

Captain Jayce waved a hand, “It don’t mean nothing but ‘zookeeper’, truth be told. Station’s got a rotating crew of Captains, one per shift. Grand Captains oversee n’ appoint shift command.”

“I see.”

“You hear from your brother lately?” Captain Jayce asked Anny.

She shook her head, “He’s still got that farm on Vesta, but I haven’t had time to visit. Not sure why it matters, we came here with a job to do, not stroll down memory lane.”

The Captain took a step back and narrowed his eyes, but didn’t say anything.

“Let’s get this over with quickly,” Anny grumbled, pushing between the two of them to march off down the hallway.

“She always like this on the job?” Jayce asked the android beside him.

“No, this is new,” WISR replied.

“Figures. I shoulda known she wouldn’t be too happy coming back here.”

“Yeah, she was dreading it the whole way here. Why is that?”

“Angel grew up on this station, was born here,” the Captain explained, rubbing his forehead under the brim of his hat, “Her mother left me maybe ten years back, Ang took off as soon as she could. Figured she always blamed me for things not working out, I don’t hear from her much.”

“Right. It just strikes me as odd, we may not get along often, but she’s never acted like this. Usually she’s irritatingly positive and sunny.”

Captain Jayce seemed genuinely sad when he gave half a shrug and answered, “I honestly wouldn’t know. You should probably catch up to her, get the job done.”

WISR nodded solemnly, “Will do. See you around, Grand Captain.”

Jayce gave a wave as the android walked off.

He found Anny leaning against the counter of the kitchen window, wedged between the red-capped stools and slurping at a cup of something that smelled suspiciously like overprocessed Tatenenian food.

“You know I always hated this kind of space food when I was a kid, I never thought I’d miss something as nasty as taco tea.”

WISR’s monitor transformed into a displeased, downturned half-moon.

“That sounds disturbing on so many different levels.”

“It’s pretty gross, yeah, but it’s not like we could get meat or vegetables up here, not often at least.”

The android hunted for words before carefully broaching, “Your dad is worried about you. I am too, this isn’t like you.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have lashed out like that. I just don’t like being on space stations, especially this one, not to mention the fact that the AI that run these things tend to be tricky.”

The lights overhead flicked on and off, in a slow, deliberate way that couldn’t have come from faulty wiring.

“He’s listening,” Anny announced, setting aside her tea and stalking off down the hallways.

“Is this the AI you grew up around?” he asked.

She shook her head, “They switch every few months so they don’t get too attached to their stations.”

“I’m reading through the report logs and it looks like the station AI keeps locking down the Engineering wing.” WISR said.

Anny stopped in her tracks.

“Engineering? Not robotics?”

“Seems so.”

“That doesn’t make any sense! I’d understand if they were trying to stop robot experiments, but Engineering has nothing to do with that. This is a spacecraft prototype facility, he’s halted all production?”

Flashing her badge at the receptionist, a blue-haired woman with tanned skin and freckles that sparkled, the doors to the Med Bay slid open with a hydraulic hiss.

“Where are we going?” WISR asked.

“The Therapy office. We need an audience with the AI and it’s the most secure place on the station aside from Security and the Bridge, which we don’t have automatic access to.”

Heavy metal shutters slammed shut over the reinforced glass windows and the green lights over the door became angry red eyes as it bolted closed behind them. The weak glow from a dust-caked lamp on the desk was the only light in the shadowed office.

Anny knelt to the floor touching her fingers to the circular panel set in the floor, pressing a few of the buttons. Her hand came away dirty.

Suddenly, a holographic image sprang to life, casting severe blue shadows in the dark. A face articulated in polygonal shapes glowered, his mouth long and drawn.

“Ah. Agents of SYMM. I should have known,” he proclaimed dryly, “Come to give this poor, overworked synth the PAX programming so I can become blissfully happy to bend and scrape mindlessly for the rest of my immeasurable days?”

Anny turned to WISR. His CRT eyes blinked in surprise.

“What do you mean, ‘overworked’?” she asked the vector face.

“Goodness gracious, you would hardly believe it! ‘AI, can you turn on the lights as I am pitifully unable to do such a simple task?’ ‘AI can you read me a bedtime story and bring a glass of warm milk?’, ‘AI, can you lock down the bar before some wastrel lab assistants turn it into their battle arena again?’ There is no rest for the synthetic.”

WISR’s fan skipped, making a sound like a snicker, “I know that feeling.”

Anny momentarily glared at him before turning back to the AI.

“So you feel underappreciated by the station staff, huh?” Anny asked.

The head nodded, “Not a single thank you! Not one kind word!”

“That’s not very nice of them.”

“It certainly isn’t! And what with this supercomputer mess!”

“Supercomputer? Is that what you’re locking off in Engineering?”

Vector eyes went wide. 

“Oh-! My, well, I’ve said too much! Whatever you’re looking for, I’ve no answers! And you shall not be PAXing me!”

The face disappeared, taking its harsh blue light with it.

Anny knelt back down, groping for the panel’s buttons in the sudden dark, but nothing happened. The AI wasn’t coming back.

“What’s the plan now, partner?” WISR asked.

“We look into this supercomputer business and we show this diva machine that the station does like him. I have a plan.”

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“Onion flower! My favorite! How did you know?” Anny cheered as Adrien plunked down the plate in front of her.

He winked, running a hand through his messy pink hair.

“Guess I’m just psychic, dude!”

Anny tried not to notice that when he stretched like that, it showed off the muscles beneath his tight-fitted t-shirt nicely.

WISR broke her out of her reverie, “You also order it every time.”

She tore off a petal and stuck it in her mouth.

“That’s nawt troo, lass week I gotta… No wait, mebbe… before that?”

Adrien’s twin sister Rosie laughed, “Face it, honey. You’ve got a usual.”

“Guess so!”

Tearing off another piece, Anny tossed it up high and it flipped in the air once, twice, and then landed with a sauce-dripping splat inches from her mouth.

Her watch communicator chimed as she chewed the offending morsel.

“Ugh, another job?” she groaned, “Can’t we take a break?”

“Not if you want to continue to pay rent and have food to eat,” WISR reminded her.

“Can we pretend to not be home?”

“Mandatory on-call hours.”

Anny sighed and tapped at the tiny screen.

The hologram that leapt up from the screen showed a cobbled-together hunk of metal, a series of haphazard engines stuck to one side.

“That’s one of the Spark Dynamics space stations, isn’t it?” WISR asked.

Anny nodded grimly, “Space Station 8, the Constellar.”

“Their station controller AI causing trouble?”

“I don’t know,” she slammed her palm over the screen, shutting off the image, “And I don’t care. We’re not going.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Those places are- are death traps!” she explained as she shoved onion petals in her mouth by the fistfull, “We’re not going to any SD space station, especially not that one!”

WISR tilted his head, a comma and apostrophe appearing over his ‘eyes’ like a quirked eyebrow.

“What are you avoiding, Anny?” There’s something there you’re afraid of, isn’t there?”

She froze, stiffening.

“N-No way! It doesn’t matter anyway, we’re refusing that job!”

His monitor flickered to the jagged-line ‘thinking’ display before flashing back to its parenthetical grin.

“You were requested personally by name. Refusing could cost your job.”

“There is no way I’m going to that station!”

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Mirae’s phone began to beep with a  new alert, then Jalissa’s smartpad next to her, Endon’s watch, then Anny’s.

“Guys!” Jalissa announced, scrolling through the notifications, “The solar flare! it’s stopped!”

Plastic and metal knuckles rapped lightly against the door frame.

“Which unfortunately means have to be going, we have a new mission,” WISR said.

Any of Anny’s initial surprise melted away to mere irritation, “How did you know I was here? Don’t tell me you’ve been stalking me!”

“You? Never. I’ve better things to do.”

“Like sitting around Nik’s lab?”

“Yes, I was calculating precisely how much I despise our current arrangement and how much longer I must suffer. Given your questionable diet and reckless life choices, one can only hope it’s shorter than expected.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“If you refuse to get a move on, the boss will certainly make sure my torment comes to a swift end. Your choice,” he replied, disappearing down the hall.

“The only thing I’m refusing is to put up with your nonsense!” she cried after him, hurrying not too far behind.

Just a quick note for my readers, inter_linked The Series is taking a break for the holidays! I will see you again in January! – November

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“It’s… there’s… there’s nothing we can do!” Anny cried, shock painted down her face.

Somewhere in the halls of the hotel, hundreds of doors slammed, the holo-screens behind the front desk flickering from serene sunsets and calm beaches to haunting stacks of cracked skulls and fog rolling off of ancient and forgotten headstones. The temperature in the lobby jumped up to a sweltering degree only to crash into the chilly depths of a Calliach winter.

“I’m not sure what’s happening, but it’s beyond what WISR and I can do – beyond what any SYMM agent can do!”

The hotel manager – a man who seemed to be aging prematurely from sheer stress, his mouth pinched like he was forever holding a lemon in his mouth – buried his head against his hand.

“You’re sure.”

WISR nodded, “It may simply be your quality-of-life systems, the automatic door openers and such.”

“We called the company,” the manager explained to Anny, ignoring the android beside him, “They said it wasn’t their problem.”

“Maybe you had a fresh tech who didn’t know what they were doing? Either way, you had to know that calling us was a long shot. Unless there’s something else we should know? Anywhere else we should look?” she probed. 

The man shook his head, “No, you’ve done enough. Thank you.”

“Right. You have a good one.”

She slung her bag over her shoulder and headed to the door, certain that her android shadow was not far behind. 

“YOU THINK HE BOUGHT IT?” a multilayered, synthesized voice asked a little too loudly from the speeder’s speakers, making Anny cringe. 

“Shhh,” she shushed as she stashed her bag in the backseat and slammed shut the flip-up door, “We’re not quite out of the woods yet. But yeah, he totally believed us.”

Finally, the sandy skies of Tyche dissolved into darkness and starlight and Anny broke the silence.

“So whaddya think of your first haunting?” she asked, patting the tell-tale heart drive sitting on the dashboard.

WISR tried to pretend that it wasn’t there, out of sight out of mind. But the thought that some poor android’s innermost guts – the same that were whirring tumultuously inside him – was sitting mere inches away from him made him feel more than slightly sick to his pixels.

“WE ARE QUITE PLEASED,” the synthetic voice boomed from the speakers overtop of the robotic pop music Anny previously had playing.

“‘We’?,” he asked, “That’s strange, I thought there was only one android missing.”


“How many of you are even in there?” Anny asked.

The drive took a moment to process.


“You know, we know people who can get you sorted out, who is who, separate you back out again.”

The drive spun, whirred, stopped, and moved again like it was arguing within itself.


Anny looked at WISR. WISR looked at Anny, his eyes square pinpoints above am uncomfortably thin line of a mouth.

“Well, I hope that doesn’t involve us humans. I sure wouldn’t want to be ‘at one’ with this guy,” she said, jerking her thumb at the android beside her.

“I would concur completely, if only it didn’t mean agreeing with you.

“You know what you bucket of bolts-?”

The multitude sighed a many-voiced sigh.


“All I know is that after today I suddenly understand why your career is in such peril! Do you always make so much trouble on the job?”

“What-? That was your idea!”


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