The Journal Entries

Anar, Urim 02, 01075

Appliance Dreams

Ramsavara looked at the vast wailing orange wall of binders and wondered if there was anywhere in particular he should begin. The indices on the spines, each printed on a card of paper inset in a little metal frame in turn stapled to the plastic rectangle base, meant nothing to him. They ran from A through R, each with a four-three-two digit sequence following them, and as he caressed the spines in hope of inspiration he realized that if he were to start anywhere he should at least start where one began. He picked H.0001.001.01 and returned to the table across the hallway. He had taken a sitting bench and turned it sideways to accommodate his Ssphynxian bulk.

It turned out to be an introduction to the Dyaus's robotic maintenance network: how robots stayed in contact with the ship's core computers, how they interacted, and the protocols for dealing with them should anything go wrong. Half of the binder was taken up with an internal index of where to go to learn more. Lieutenant Heiga had been piecing together the Dyaus's internal cybernetwork bare-handed. Ramsavara thought he should show this to her.

His involvement in the technical details of the ship's computer network was so complete that he didn't hear anything until hands crept up on his back. He turned to see who it was, and leaped away with all four feet, knocking over the table and sending the binder scattering across the floor. "Who..."

"I'm sorry, did I startle you?" The woman standing opposite him seemed genuinely concerned. She walked over to the binder, picked it up and offered it out to him. "I didn't mean to. I just saw you working so hard and thought that maybe you could use a massage. Something to relax you."

"Who are you?"

"Just... part of the ship's recreational facilities." She grinned. "Do you mind?"

Ramsavara recalled that Meigi had been but one of five pleasure droids on board the Dyaus. The other four had been located, but he hadn't heard anything about them being activated. "You're not dangerous, are you?" he said.

"No, I don't think so." A puzzled expression crossed her face, to be replaced with something like pleased insight. "I'll go away, if you like."

"No, that's okay," Ramsavara said. The other droids were supposed to be just SIs. Good manufacture, but nothing special in the conversational department.

"Do you want that massage?"

He looked at her. "Do you mind if I call my captain first?"

She smiled. "No, not at all."

Ramsavara walked over to the wall communicator and toggled its control. "Chihuro here."

"Uh, Captain? I've met a member of the crew. The Dyaus's crew."

"Explain, Lieutenant." Ramsavara started, but when he turned around to ask her something the woman was gone.

Nantonly let his fingers stray along the keyboard, letting each plastic tine tempt him to strike, call him to play. The sheets of music before him were as archaic as the internal combustion engine and as precious as thought: two dozen pieces of classical piano from The Gap Time, the twenty-year period between 2005 and 2025 when most Terran music had been encrypted in some way and was so hard to recover that those AIs who even knew about it didn't bother. If they had the music, they weren't telling anyone. Music historians assembled the music from that time piece by piece, often breaking the encryption envelope with their own archaic clusters of ancient CPUs. Just finding the machinery needed to read a storage device from a millennium ago was hard enough. He had found the sheets of music stored in a box, and sheet music from that era was almost as good as having the artist's own recordings. He depressed a few keys and let a chord of music fill the room, then launched into Takemitsu's "Cape Cod" Opus, Part 3, "The Whale". It really should have been played on Spanish guitar, he knew, but he didn't have such an instrument handy. He had found this keyboard in one of the several theatres and had been practicing for a week.

The piece was only about ten minutes long, and he let himself enjoy every strike as he played. When the last, mournful chord passed away, he heard clapping.

He smiled and wondered who had found him. His obsession with the cache of music had been no secret among the tiny crew, so he turned to look. He startled when he realized that he didn't know the nearly naked mel who walked down the aisle and mounted the seven steps up to the stage. "Who... are you?"

The mel, a tall, muscular human with sun-bronzed skin and dark hair that threatened to cover his eyes, strode up and glanced at him, then at the sheet of notes. "I was walking past and I came to enjoy your music." He wore only a kind of blue modesty suit that was anything but modest: a waist-hugging wrapping over his crotch that emphasized the mass of his equipment and described in detail every curve and hollow of his buttocks. Nantonly felt the tiny furs between his ears prickle upwards, followed by the flow of blood to his own groin, and a subsequent lack of blood to the brain. "I'm Koo," the mel said. "Part of the ship's recreational facilities."

Nantonly's eyes contemplated this bulk of human sexual signals and then remembered. "You're one of the pleasure droids?"

"The only male among them," he said. "The other four were all female."

"Meigi included," Nantonly said.

"Yes, her especially. Do you mind that I listened? I haven't heard anyone play music like that in a while."

"No, I don't mind. I... " Nantonly tried to control himself. He was proud of his self-control. But he had been controlling himself for months: there had been damn few bipeds aboard the Anna O Pendoro, and he was the only one aboard the Dyaus now. He wasn't prejudiced against Ssphynx, but keeping up with them took work and he always felt out-massed. None of the other mels on the Dyaus were interested in him anyway. His eyes kept glancing down at the fat sausage shape deforming the metallic blue fabric of Koo's shorts.

Koo glanced down. "Sorry, is it... bothering you? I should get dressed."

"No, I think..." He gestured toward the keyboard. "I'm authorized to use the recreational facilities. Does that include you?"

Koo smiled. "It would if you asked."

"I'd like to use you."

Koo's hands slid under the waistband of his shorts and slowly pushed them down. His fat, blunt-headed cock sprang out in front of him and wavered before Nantonly's eyes. "You were staring. Do more."

Nantonly reached out with trembling, desperate hands, his mouth open, his back bending down just a bit from the piano bench on which he sat. Koo took a step forward and as Nantonly's hand slid between Koo's legs and gathered his warm, furry balls in one palm his mouth made contact with the delicious, salty, pissy, textureless surface of Koo's cock. He opened his muzzle and felt that meaty missile slide along his tongue, tasting the ridge of foreskin, the frenulum of flesh along the underside, until his nose was tickled by Koo's pubic hair. For a moment, he abandoned all notions of civilisation just to hold Koo's cock in his mouth. He loved to suck cock, to take and give this kind of favour with another mel.

Koo's hands grabbed his head. "Damn," Koo groaned. "Never done it with a Mephit before. You're just as good as anyone!"

Nantonly looked up, taking the cock out of his mouth for a moment. "I hope so. I love it."

"Do you love fucking?" Koo asked.

Nantonly gasped, "Later! Right now I want this." He wrapped his hand around the base of Koo's cock, encompassing his balls in the process. He slid off the piano bench and onto his knees, taking that cock into his throat without a pause. Koo groaned. Nantonly's own cock was hard and pulsing within his pants as he mouthed Koo's cock, sucking on its beautiful broadness. A dribble of precum seemed to seep from Koo into Nantonly mouth and he moaned at the idea that there might be more. Koo's body grew tense with the need for release. The dribble grew in flow and Nantonly sucked and licked at the head, caressed the length of the shaft with his tongue, and paused to inhale deeply of the manly scents that lived in the fur of Koo's scrotum. This was something he had been missing for all these months.

Koo pulled away from Nantonly. "I don't want to come yet."

"But..." Koo knelt and reached for Nantonly's own crotch. Nantonly sprawled back against the keyboard, making the piano tinkle in a moment of bright chaos. His mind reared as Koo tore open the fly of his pants and pulled out his cock. The man's head began bobbing up and down almost immediately. Nantonly was swept away as the sheer ecstasy of giving up his cock to another man made him want to come within seconds, but he held off, if only because it would have been unseemly to come so fast. He gasped hard: Koo was an absolute master of his trade. Nantonly groaned, his cock stretched, engorged with more pressure than it had had in many lonely months. He caressed Koo's hair, his body heaving, his breath labored with intensity, and just as he was about to come, Koo back off. "I want your cock inside me," Koo said.

Nantonly grinned and said, "Let me at that ass." He stood and grabbed Koo by the shoulders. Koo was short for a human and they came eye to eye. Only now did he see the muscles of Koo's broad back, the way his body was sculpted down to the waist and those two masses of muscle that were Koo's buttocks. He kissed Koo's shoulders. "We should have more time to talk."

"After you fuck me," Koo said. But Nantonly took his time. He knew if he just tore his way into Koo, he would have come instantly. Koo had put him that much on edge. No, he wished for this to last. He didn't know how often he would be able to use the "ship's recreation facilities," but he knew he wanted to come back to Koo whenever he liked. He kissed his way down Koo's broad back until he was again kneeling, this time facing Koo's ass. "Hold yourself open," he said.

"Like this?" Koo leaned his chest against the piano and reached back, his broad hands pulling at the cheeks of his ass, exposing his dark hidden hole.

"Like that." Nantonly breathed in the air of Koo's sweaty crotch before he pushed his muzzle up against Koo's asshole and began to lick. He was not at all subtle, starting with a shove of his tongue up into Koo's butt, pressing his way in. He wanted to make sure the road his cock took was wet and loose and ready for him. Koo groaned. "Yeah, eat my ass. Oh, fuck, eat my ass. Fuck, man, nobody ever wanted to eat my ass when the ship was full! What are you?"

"A Pendorian," Nantonly said, knowing it was a poor answer. He didn't care. He stood up behind Koo, his legs pressing against the well-built thighs of the man before him. He slid his cock up and down the moistened crack of Koo's ass with one hand, while with the other he held onto Koo's waist. Koo pressed his ass back against Nantonly's crotch, and Nantonly gave him what he wanted. He aimed his cock for that hole and the two men merged together, Nantonly's cock filling the waiting void of Koo's ass. Both men gasped as hips met ass. "Oh, yes," Nantonly said.

"Yes," Koo agreed, looking back, reaching with one hand out for Nantonly's hips, grasping blindly. "Yes, fuck me, man, fuck me." Nantonly fucked him slowly. He wanted to remember what every square cem of Koo's asshole felt like. He wanted to concentrate on the top on one stroke, then the left side, the right, the bottom. He wanted to know what it felt like as his cock tripped past the opening, and he wanted to know what the head of his cock felt as it pushed its way deep into Koo's guts.

He leaned his brow against the broad back before him, wrapped his arms around Koo's chest, and the two of them became welded together into an organic engine with one moving part, Nantonly's fleshy piston deep within Koo's body. His hips bounced off Koo's warm, tight ass like a piano striker against a taut cable at high octaves, the music of two men's moans filled the stage and Nantonly was momentarily wishful for an audience to see his performance, his rise to rapture, his moment of transport away from the frustrations of daily existence. Their climax lasted barely a second: Nantonly loud growl of pleasure, the pulse of semen from his cock shoved with brute action deeper into Koo's ass, the waves of pleasure, success, and even the sadness that it was over and the quest would begin anew... all there.

He slid his cock out of Koo's ass. He slipped to the floor where he landed with the kind of thud a stage is designed to amplify. He looked up, and Koo was standing over him, his lips curved in warm delight. "Now I've got to go get clean," Koo observed simply, then he reached down and patted Nantonly's cheek gently. "But I'll be seeing you again." He leaned over and picked up the scrap of blue cloth that he had discarded at the beginning, straightened up, and walked out before the dazed Executive Officer Nantonly could even ask him where he lived.

It was several more minutes before Nantonly remembered that the pleasure droids were supposed to be in storage, deactivated.

"These people were serious about their fresh food, huh?" Mataio reached over and pulled up a turnip.

His companion, Kennet, had his hands deep into the soil about a head of lettuce. He wrenched it out with barely a pause and tossed it into the low gardening wagon he had pulled from a storage closet. "So are we," Kennet replied.

Mataio said, "Sort-of. We do all sorts of strange things with yeast products and hydroponic high-density growth rooms, but this–" He gestured to the large, domed-over space tall enough for large trees. "I guess they thought it made for mental health, too."

Kennet shrugged. "All I know is, my mental health isn't done a whole lot of good digging in the dirt."

Mataio just grinned and decided to keep his opinion to himself. He had grown up in an agricultural creche' with a bunch of other Ssphynx and thought of growing his own food as an essential part of his life. He had paid close attention to the automated farms aboard the Anna o Pendoro. He had even tried his hand at genetically engineering his own new kinds of vegetables, never with any success.

He tossed another turnip into the garden wagon when he noticed someone standing on the far edge of the dome. "Who's that?" he asked.

Kennet looked up. "It can't be Nantonly, and he's the only two-legger on board. Except Meigi. And that doesn't look like her."

"One of the robots?"

"All of the robots on board look like machines except for the sexdroids, and I thought Meigi was the only one of those that was activated." He looked again. "Besides, she's the wrong color. A few shades too dark."

"We're in hyperspace. Who else could it be?" Mataio said.

"Let's go found out." They stood up, and both clapped their hands together to dust some of the dirt off, then walked across to where the figure stood on a catwalk that ran the perimeter of the dome, about a meter off the floor.

She wore a tight blue skinsuit that form-fit breasts so large they looked shaped like missiles with expanded warheads and legs so long the addition of heels made her look off-balance. Except for her flesh-and-blood appearance, she might have stepped out of some virtual fantasy game. She walked over to the stairs that descended from the catwalk. "Hello, gentlemen."

"Who are you?" Kennet asked.

"My name is Fluff." Her voice was low-pitched, sexy and demanding. "I came down because I thought you fellows were working a little too hard for your own good, and might need a break."

"You're one of the sex-droids, aren't you?"

"I'm part of the ship's... recreational facilities."

"Are you sentient?" Mataio asked.

"I can be whatever you want me to be." She looked them over– one large Ssphynx, one small Centaur. "Except four-legged." She stepped down the stairs, reached out and touched Kennet's cheek. "When was the last time you had someone to fuck?"

"Is that all you want?"

"Isn't that all that I'm good for? You're the one who think I'm a sex-droid."

"Are you?" Kennet said.

"Of course. And you friend is welcome to join in."

Kennet turned to Mataio. "What do you think?"

"At the creche', we learned never to turn down an opportunity." He stripped the tight-fitting shirt off his chest and tossed it up to the catwalk. Kennet did the same, and then the two of them circled around Fluff, who boldly stepped into Kennet's arms and kissed him. Mataio heard Kennet's moan. He came up behind Fluff and kissed the back of her neck, inhaling the scent of her skin. It was convincingly human-like, and Mataio wasn't about to be too judgemental. Although he hadn't been asked, it had been too long since he had last gotten laid. He might have propositioned Kennet, but fraternizing with co-workers was usually a bad plan in his experience, Fluff reached back behind herself with one hand and caressed his abdomen, that narrow mass of muscle that did little more than hold up the humanoid half of him.

Fluff pulled away from Kennet long enough to pull down the tiny zipper that kept her suit on. It peeled away as if she were ripened fruit. She turned and offered her breasts to Mataio with her hands. "I saw you eyeing these."

"They're hard to miss." he said. He reached out and felt one, squeezing it gently, then closing thumb and forefinger about the nipple. She gave a soft "yip!" sound as he did so, and then smiled. Kennet's hands were on her shoulders, and then they caressed her back down to her ass, which he grasped fully. She moaned, her body radiating a kind of desire. "Which of you handsome men do I get to do first?"

"Let's move over to the grass," Mataio suggested.

Once down on the grass, Fluff began with her hands on Mataio's lower body, rolling him over, exposing his cock. "You are built like a horse, aren't you?"

"In every way possible," he said. Her hands touched his belly, then slipped down to his erection, which was already throbbing with a need Mataio had not known he had until Fluff walked into his life. He wondered how long she would stay, and then her mouth was working on his cock. He felt warmth, motion, life in that moment when Fluff sucked on his cock, her mouth and even her throat drawing the pleasure out of him. He had not known just how backed up his desire could get.

She moaned and he looked up to see Kennet's head down between her thighs. He glanced along Kennet's torso and saw the Ssphynx's own cock dangling in the air. He had a strong desire to curl around and take it into his mouth; at the creche, monosexuals were thought of as weird, and Mataio had never had a tendency either way himself. He just wanted to get off.

Fluff was doing that quite excellently. He thought for a moment that he might want her to stop long enough for him to actually fuck her, but decided that if she was going to keep going, her mouth was an excellent place to drop his load. He wasn't that big on humans, but this zaftig blond creature paying attention to his cock without any obvious pretense to his equine nature clearly had the right physical attributes when it came to her lips and tongue.

Her body took on a different rhythm against his belly. He looked up and saw Kennet grinning over her. "How is she?" Mataio asked.

"Marvellous," Kennet said. He pushed hard, and she moaned low as he fucked her. Mataio leaned back and let her continue sucking on his cock, letting the urgency of his climax build. Kennet was a hot guy, and Fluff was just as hot a girl, and he tensed it all six of his limbs as he reached critical mass. Kennet shouted out, "Yeah, yeah!" as he came within the girl wedged between them.

He stretched out, suddenly listless. He had been energetic and ready when she had invited him, full of the kind of energy that comes from living a good life, but now he was tired, exhausted. She stood up and looked down at the two men, then leaned over and kissed Mataio. "You appreciate a good love 'droid, don't you?"

"Yes, Ma'am," he said. She smiled and walked away.

Raven pulled up the inventory of spices and wondered what she had left with which to cook tonight's dinner. She debated contacting her two farmer volunteers and asking them to bring up some sage for a pseudo-poultry meal, as she would have liked to do something appropriate to the ship, say a tandoori chicken and rice pudding dish. She tapped her nose gently with the stylus in her hand. "You're working too hard."

She jumped. She had excellent hearing and was not used to having someone sneak up on her. She turned and looked, and was startled again. "Hello?"

"Hi." The human girl walking up was unknown to her. "I saw you staring at the screen as if you were trying to make it bleed. I wondered if you would need any help."

"Who are you?"

"Ellie." The girl held out her hand. "Part of the ship's recreational facilities."

"You're one of the 'love droids'."

Ellie nodded. "Second most advanced model. Nothing like Meigi, of course."

Raven sat down on a bench. "I remember you. You don't look like the others. They're all hypertrophied sex machines." She had to admit that that quality alone made Ellie more attractive than the other sex 'droids that various wealthy members of the former crew had managed to sneak on board.

"Oh, I am too, where it matters." Ellie grinned. "But people buy love droids to fulfill some fantasy they can't otherwise. Sometimes it's accessibility to the kind of body not usually found in nature. My owner, it seemed, was obsessed with recreating his first kiss. Over and over." She touched her lips with one finger. "I have my own way of being hypertrophied."

Raven nearly laughed. "So, what brings you down here?"

"Oh, curiosity, mostly. Like the other love 'droids, I'm interested in practicing my craft and finding others to practice on. I've had a chance to observe most of the crew through the ship's on-board surveillance network. I thought that you might be the most approachable."


"Yes." She approached Raven. She put out her hands, and took Raven's in her own. "I'm supposed to be relaxing."

"What did you former owner consider 'relaxing'?"

Ellie shrugged. "Whatever he wanted, so long as I asked nothing especially strenuous of him. Could you use a massage?" She glanced down the length of Raven's body. "How about a brushing?

Raven sighed with the mere thought of a proper brushing. "You make a hard bargain."

"My batteries last for months," Ellie said, grinning. "I'll be right back."

Raven watched her disappear, her body seemingly lighter than it should have been against the artificial gravity of the Dyaus. A few moments later she was back with a pair of wooden palm-handled brushes. "Where did you find those?"

Ellie said, "They've been in among my owner's equipment. I think he hoped to breed horses when we got to wherever we were going." She turned one over, looked at the bristles briefly. "It's sad that he didn't make it. Now, why don't you take off that shirt, stretch out along this bench, and let your legs dangle? Arms forward. That's right."

Raven did as Ellie instructed. "Now, let's see..." The brushes came down against her upper shoulder blades and Ellie stroked downwards, down until she reached the joint where Raven's upper spine met her forepelvis. "I've never done this on a Ssphynx. I didn't know Ssphinxes came in black, either."

"It's dye. I like it that way."

"'Kay." Ellie's touch with the brush was wonderful. Each fall of the sharp bristles against Raven's fell was accompanied by a soft stroke away, down, down her fur until it reached the base of her spine, then back. Ellie paid attention to every cem of her forelegs, then began a repeat performance on Raven's lower half, pressing harder until Raven was moaning with pleasure. "Doing okay?"

"Oh, yes. I haven't felt this good in so long, and I think we'll have to do something about those batteries if I'm–"

She was interrupted "All hands report to the bridge. All hands report to the bridge immediately. No delays. I mean now." Captain Chihuro's voice shook Raven, and she looked up.

"I have to go."

"I know. I hope we can meet again soon."

"Me, too." Raven grabbed her shirt and ran for the bridge.

When she arrived she found Heiga, Meigi, Ramsavara, and Captain Chihuro all standing in a circle near the command chairs. Chihuro had the kind of look on her face no crew member wants to see– anxious. A crew member can handle an angry captain, but an anxious captain is one that doesn't know what to do next. It bothered her. "I'm telling you, Captain, I saw her."

"I believe you– Ah, Raven. Tell me, have you encountered any, ah, ship's recreational facilities?"

Raven said, "You mean Ellie?"

"Yes, I think so. Explain what just happened to you."

Raven explained in detail the young woman she had just encountered, and the rather innocent time they had spent together. At least, she thought it was innocent. Chihuro listened to the whole conversation even as Kennet and Mataio reached the bridge. Chihuro turned to them as they approached the circle, took a deep breath and said, "Well, I don't need to ask you."

"Ask us what?" Kennet said. The door opened and Ailiva and Takaku also approached the circle.

"Whether you've encountered any members of the ship's recreational facilities wandering the hallways. I take it you both were involved?"

Kennet, somewhat taken aback, nodded. "Yes, Ma'am."

"Good. I'm glad to see you survived the encounter." She asked the other two who had just arrived, but both of them shook their heads. Others filtered in until finally Commander Nantonly joined them. "What took you so long?"

"I was in the shower."

"Did you encounter one of the ship's 'recreational facilities'?"

Nantonly took a step back, then nodded. "In one of the theatres. I was practicing piano. Is there a problem?"

"You're absolutely right there's a problem. Did it occur to any of you that the other four pleasure robots are supposed to be turned off?"

"Then what..." Mataio began.

"They were my dreams." Everyone turned to look at Meigi. "I'm part of this ship now. Heiga connected me to all of the ship's sensoria along with the ship's processing. But with that much coming in I need downtime to process everything, so Heiga instituted dreaming."

Heiga nodded. "It's standard in smaller AIs, the way it is in humans, to shut consciousness down and run the dream sequence on top of the standard CPUs. It takes all of the memories of the day and processes them, but in doing so, especially in AIs that are fully conscious, there are consequences. Sometimes, the processing requires facilities with side-effects. In organics, this is usually handled by sleep paralysis, and we do something similar in AIs. It doesn't seem to have worked in Meigi's case. I think each one of you met some part of Meigi's dreams."

"But Ellie..." Raven said. "She seemed so real. I could swear she was convincingly conscious."

"Not ours," Mataio said. "Mostly a convincing mannequin. Hot, but not something I'd bring home to mama."

"That doesn't seem to have discouraged you," Chihuro observed.

"No, Ma'am, it didn't." Mataio was neither embarrassed nor leering. It was just fact.


"I'd say my encounter was a bit like Mataio's."

"And Ramsavara, the only one with the common sense to call the bridge first, didn't have enough of an encounter to make an assessment." She turned to Meigi. "Do you think you could have Ellie come to the bridge?"

Meigi stood still for a second, her eyes unfocused and distant. "I can." Chihuro nodded. "She's on her way."

Ellie arrived wearing the same outfit that Ellie had seen earlier: loose blue pants, a form-fitting yellow shirt, and a wide-lapeled blue club coat over it. She looked exactly like someone ready to go spend the evening at some loud but otherwise overmodest club where the dancing would be ritualized and the drinks unaffecting. Her long, light-brown hair framed a bright face with eyes of surprising light and an undimmed, youthful smile. Kennet whistled. "Wow. And I thought we'd gotten lucky!"

Raven blushed. So did Meigi. Chihuro turned to him and said, "Kennet, did you ever stop to think that Meigi's dreams might not be nearly as safe as Meigi herself?"

"We don't know that Meigi's all that safe, Captain," Heiga said. "It doesn't seem to have sunk in with some of this crew that we're all living inside the body of an AI that is not part of the Encompassment Compact. We have no guarantee that she has our best interests at heart, and we should act accordingly."

"But I do!" Meigi said. "You believe me, don't you?"

Heiga reached out and touched Meigi's shoulder. "I believe you. I've seen as much of your code as anyone, and I believe that you're safe. But I'm not an AI. I don't have the power to make those assessments."

Meigi looked down at the floor. Chihuro sighed. "Derrick said this should be easy, if the engines didn't blow up or life support fail. Instead, I have to deal with an emergent AI's wet dreams."

"She's not emergent," Heiga said. "Emergent AIs are a myth. Her progress is very deliberate. She's just at the stage now where she... dreams. And her original function is as a pleasure droid. I don't think any of her instances could hurt anyone. Her memories and fantasies are all about accomplishing her goal."

Chihuro didn't contradict her. Instead, she turned to Raven. "This is the woman you met?"

Raven nodded. "Hello, Ellie."

Ellie said, "Hello. Have we met?"

The voice was flat and without affect. Raven felt her heart sink. The Ellie she had met had been vibrant and vital, not this artless simulacrum. She shook her head. "It's the same body, but that's not the same person I met. There was something different about her. She was like Meigi. I mean, not like Meigi, but like... it's hard to explain. She was alive, the way Meigi is."

Meigi said, "Is it possible that there was more than one AI experiment going on inside the Dyaus at the time?"

"It's possible," Heiga stated. "I would say that it's likely. Sex 'droid owners tended to tinker a lot. Like you said, they wanted them to be 'alive'."

"In the meantime," Chihuro said, "I want to know how we prevent these incidents."

"Do you have to?" Kennet said, clearly trying to make a joke.

"Quiet, Lieutenant." She sighed. "I suppose it's not so bad that you're using those particular ports of the ship's 'recreational facilities' but I'd rather they not be part of my girlfriend's inner life when you do."

Heiga said, "We don't know about the one Ramsavara found, but the other two appear to be rather stock robots, even if their designs are archaic. I could arrange to have them firewalled off in some respects from Meigi, but we would still ultimately be reliant on Meigi to honor the firewall. Still, I could make it so she wouldn't be able to get through the firewall when she was dreaming."

"And... this one?" Chihuro gestured to Ellie

"I'm off the archiving project until I figure out what made her seem different from the others."

Chihuro sighed. She turned. "You're my crew, but you're all volunteers. Remember: until further notice, if you meet one of the sex 'droids in the hallways, call the bridge and log the incident. And don't get too intimate until Heiga tells us it's safe to do so. Understood?"

There were nods and salutes. "Are you okay?" she asked Meigi.

Meigi nodded, still smiling her small trademark smile. "I'll be fine. I have a great crew living inside me."