I wrote the following short story for the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. Since I didn’t win it, I now have full authority to publish it wherever I want!

In retrospect, it’s probably best that I didn’t win because I’m not sure I want my name attached to anything associated with L. Ron Hubbard. So maybe things work out? Anyway, feast your eyes and enjoy. This story will be featured in my upcoming collection titled Love Letters to a House on Fire.

Awaiting Further Orders

Executing command. Recording essential memory files to an external drive for extraction.

Recording memory file number 000000.01

Earth date: January 26, 2674

United Galaxies date: 675.8252

Darkness. Nothing. Then sounds.

“…a corrupted memory bank?”

“Yep. Factory reject. I’m required by law to tell you.”

“How bad is it?”

Two men. Different voices. Muffled, but close.

“It can remember the important things—survival operations, ship schematics, self-preservation techniques—but the rest of its memory is wonky. Might forget a crew member’s name or bring you a Phillips when you ask for a flathead.”

The first man laughs. “So it’s got personality.”

“I guess.”

“How much?”

“Three thousand credits.”

A pause. “I’ve only got two.”

“Done—if it means I finally get this thing off my hands.”

A beep. A loud hiss. Metallic clunking as the hatch opens before me and dim light seeps into the storage pod. One of the men scanning me is in a United Galaxies Armada uniform with a yellow stripe—a captain. With his sandy brown hair and soft, lean face, I can surmise that he is a native of Earth, or at least a descendant of those who evacuated the planet. The other is a humanoid creature with glossy green skin zipped up in a greasy brown jumpsuit—likely the attendant.

“Alright, it’s all yours,” the attendant says as it holds out a tablet for payment.

“Wow,” the captain says as he studies me and pays the credits. “How long since you’ve given this thing a wash? There’s muck all around the bolts.”

“Doesn’t matter, it’s your problem n—”

I speak for the first time. The sound comes from a tinny speaker on the side of my processing unit. “Four months, three days, seven hours, and twenty-six minutes, Master.”

The attendant glares at me, but Master smiles.

“Do you have a name, little guy?” he says.

“My designated factory name is Bebo,” I say. “If it is not to your liking, I can overwrite it to something more suitable.”

“Bebo is fine,” Master says, finishing the transaction. “Come with me.”

Master beckons me forward and I activate my treads. They whir and strain as they push my body forward—a stout metal tower with extendable claws and a visor on top containing my cameras and sensors.

I’m properly hosed and lubricated at a cleansing station. After that, my treads don’t whine so much and my visual scanner is uninhibited by oily smudges. Giant fans blow away excess water and Master leads me to the docking bay. As we travel through the hallways, I scan the lifeforms that pass us—various species all wearing United Galaxies Armada uniforms.

The hallway opens to the cavernous docking bay, and my internal microphones are assaulted by a symphony of sounds: crackling welds against ship exteriors, beeping vehicles, laughs and swears of Armada members… and dozens of other robotic assistance units. Most of them are larger and stronger than me. Some even walk with hind legs and have faces with eyes and mouths.

I’m so busy examining my surroundings that I bump into Master when he stops. He looks over his shoulder and smirks at me like a parent does with their child.

“Bebo,” he says. “This is the crew. Everybody, this is Bebo, our new robotic assistance unit.”

There are three of them, two men and one woman. The man with the hard eyes and uneven facial hair is loading gauze and antiseptics into a medpack when he looks at me. He raises one eyebrow. “You got a BBO unit? Those are for junior colleges and pleasure ships.”

“It’s the best deal I could find,” Master says. “You’re always telling us money is tight. Besides, we save up for a couple of months and we can get it repaired. Fully functional.”

“Wait, you got a less-than-functional BBO unit?” the hard-eyed man replies. He pulls out a tablet and pokes the screen while shaking his head.

The woman approaches me. Her even face frames kind features like large eyes and full lips. Sweat shimmers on her strong arms and dirty leather gloves cover her hands. As she squats down to level with my visual scanner, she smiles. “It should be fine as long as it’s got all the necessary software. What do we call you, squirt?”

“My designated factory name is Bebo. If it is not to your liking, I can—”

“Bebo,” Master says, “that’s Gilroy, our medical officer, and this is Kira, our engineer. Over there is Emmund, our weapons expert.”

The second man isn’t human, but a Gulik—a reptilian race that resembles an old Earth creature called an alligator, but with arms and legs and no tail. He cleans a blaster rifle with scaly hands and gives me a nod before pushing up his round glasses. He makes a crackling noise with his mouth, spits on the barrel of his blaster, then wipes the saliva with a rag.

“Where’s the rest of the crew?” Master asks.

“Blowing what little money we have on beer and hookers, probably,” Kira smirks. “A few of them went to get rations for the trip.”

Value rations,” Gilroy says, holding up his tablet. “We can’t afford anything else right now. That’s the glamour of contract Armada work.”

Master lets out a deep breath. “Well, at least it’s a short trip. Bebo, you ready to link with the ship?”

“Yes, Master.”

My treads whir again as I follow him up into the ship’s belly. They struggle against the ramp’s incline, making my gears groan.

“By the way, you don’t have to call me Master. My name is Matthew.”

“Attempting primary designation overwrite for ‘Master.’” There’s a faint grinding as my CPU attempts the request. It lasts for 2.822 seconds before three low beeps sound from my speaker. “Operation failed. Forgive me, Master.”

Master shrugs. “It’s fine. ‘Master.’ So formal… here.”

He pulls a thick cable from underneath the ship’s central processing panel, then clicks it into one of my inputs. The ship’s computer floods me with information. Vessel designation: Icarus. Role: contract-level vessel investigation and contraband disposal. Crew members: twelve—four officers and eight crewmen. Information fills me that would take a human years to learn. For me, it’s 5.438 seconds.

“Upload complete, Master,” I say.

“Thanks, Bebo. Make yourself at home. We’ll gather the rest of the crew.”

‘Home.’ A strange thing to call a place like this. As Master exits the ship, my visor scans the surroundings and finds an environment that most would call uncomfortable and cramped. Multicolored cables and pipes run across the ceiling providing power and oxygen to all compartments. The immediate room is the common space—furnished with padded benches around the room’s perimeter beneath an ambush of storage compartments.

But with the ship’s schematics in my central processing unit, I can see the space beyond the walls. The room to my right contains storage for weapons, armor, and rations. A space after that separates into the bunk room for the eight crewmen, the individual quarters for every officer, two showers, and two latrines—one for the officers, one for the crewmen. The space to my left contains the navigation bay for Master.

Master comes bounding back into the ship, then stoops down to look in my visual scanner. “How are you feeling? Nervous?”

“As a machine, I am incapable of emotions, Master.”

“Well, I’m excited to have you here. You’re going to be a huge help to us.” His smile grows. “Welcome aboard the Icarus, Bebo.”

Recording memory file number 000009.09

Earth date: February 4, 2674

United Galaxies date: 675.8254

My treads hum as I bring a plastic pouch of water to a crewman. He turns away from his mushy, blocky food to study the ration I retrieved for him. His face presses into a scowl.

“Bebo,” he says. “I said I wanted apple juice, not water.”

I bring the pouch up to my visual sensor. W-A-T-E-R. My mistake.

“Forgive me, sir.”

“Just go get some apple juice, okay? I need something sweet.”

As I take the ration back to the station, I hear another crewman say, “Sometimes I tell it to bring me something I don’t want to see if it gets the order right.”

Kira pipes up through a mouth half-filled with food. “Hundo, you’re not smart enough to know what you want!”

Some of the crewmen laugh. Across the room, I see Master’s face. He is not amused. I go back to the ration station, acquire a pouch of apple juice, and bring it to the crewman. He gives me a foul look again.

“Bebo, this is still water.”

I scan the pouch. I see the letters W-A-T before he snatches it from my claw.

“You know what? I don’t care. These value rations all taste the same anyway.”

“Forgive me, sir.”

He rolls his eyes and looks at Master. “Captain, with all due respect, this BBO unit is useless.”

Master gives the crewmen a curious stare as if surprised by his stupidity. “Do you think a robotic assistance unit is a butler, Hundo?”

“Well no, but—”

“Bebo is recording every second of every day of our excursions. It also has built-in functions for survival and preservation if we ever get in a tough spot. In our profession, we absolutely need that kind of utility. It’s amazing we went so long without one.”

“It won’t matter if those functions don’t work properly,” one crewman muttered.

“The United Galaxies won’t issue them if they don’t,” Master continues. “It’s the law. If we ever find ourselves in a position where we need them—God forbid—Bebo might just save all our lives. So maybe you should start thanking it in advance.”

Master gives me a smile. I would smile back, but I have no face.

Gilroy sits next to Master. He taps his tablet screen, puts it away, then analyzes me. My albeit-new understanding of human expression would mark his face as something close to ‘disdain.’ He speaks in a low tone, but I still pick up the words. “We should have waited a while and picked up a better unit.”

“We needed one and the price was right.”

“We’ve been fine without one. This was a luxury expense.”

“Give it time, Gil. It’ll prove its value and you’ll thank me. Better to have an RAU and not need it than to need it and be dead.”

Gilroy gives me another glare and shovels some rations in his mouth.

Emmund isn’t far away. He blinks his reptilian eyes at me. “You’re equipped with defense weapons, are you not?”

“One, sir,” I respond. “A ten-millimeter ion blaster retracted inside my right shoulder unit. Functional range: seventy-five yards. It can fire thirty shots before needing a recharge.”

Emmund nods slowly. “Acceptable for now. We’ll look to upgrade that once we have money for your repairs. That’s if better rations don’t come first.” He pinches a block of tofu with two fingers and dangles it in front of his snout.

At that moment, Kira prances into the common area, wrench in hand and coated with sweat. She brushes some hair out of her glistening face and gives a bright smile. “Got the shower head fixed! You knuckleheads are welcome to applaud now or later.”

The common room swells with applause. Once it dies down, Gilroy peeps her up and down with flashing eyes. “Is it? I should probably check for myself. You’re welcome to come with me for… observation, if necessary.”

His body temperature increases—I can see it in my infrared scanner. So does Kira’s. The entire common room whoops and taunts as the two of them leer at each other. Kira doesn’t say anything, but blushes, bites her lip, and extends her hand.

The entire room bursts into whistles and jeers as Gilroy slams down his food and jaunts over to Kira like an excited dog. Master watches the two of them leave and shakes his head. There’s something playful about his grin. “Bebo, can you play some music for the next few minutes? Make sure it’s nice and loud.”

Recording memory file number 000019.71

Earth date: February 14, 2674

United Galaxies date: 675.8256

Just another routine checkup. Through the ship’s computer, I control the thrusters and watch the merchant vessel edge closer to ours until our hatches are close enough to merge. Master told me that before I arrived, Kira engaged in this process manually. She must have detested ship linking, because the first time I completed the task, she kissed me on top of my visual scanner.

The ships line up. I engage the link and a loud thud rocks us, throwing everyone off balance. A sharp hiss engages from the main hatch and the crew gathers, waiting for the doors to open. They’re equipped with their inspection armor, which provides some light protection against possible blaster fire. But these checkups never escalate. This is a quiet region of the United Galaxies. Master assures me nothing has happened here for years.

The hatch door pops then grinds open. The crew is met by a short, wide hallway that stretches for twenty-six feet and four inches. At the other end of the hallway, three representatives from the other ship await us. My scanners indicate that they are unarmed. I communicate that to Master’s earpiece via radio signal and he gives me a faint nod. He and Emmund approach them.

“Afternoon,” Master says. “Routine checkup. Should only take a few minutes.”

I detach from the main computer and move to the opening of the hatch. In the weeks I’ve operated, I haven’t needed my defense weapon, but it’s in my programming to be ready regardless.

With my infrared sensor, I watch Master and the others comb through the ship. They check under compartments and go through cupboards, looking for anything that may resemble contraband: illegal weapons, wanted persons, addictive substances. I also see the signals of the other ship’s crew members, standing, sitting, swaying in place. None of them are holding weapons, so the situation appears normal.

But the ship’s files contain records for six persons. I count eleven.

After a few minutes, I hear Master’s approval. “Everything looks good.”

They make their way back toward the hatch. But that calls into question the other five signals. I can see them huddled closely together with their arms all linked. Master and Emmund nearly pass them.

“Master,” I say. “Forgive me for intruding, but you missed a compartment.”

“No we didn’t, Bebo. We checked everything.”

“I beg your pardon Master, but I must disagree. To your immediate left, there are five human signals standing close together inside that wall.”

Master stops. Then he replies in a whisper. “Directly to my left? There’s no door there.”

“I am aware, Master, but there are eleven life forms in this ship while only six are documented on their central computer. The other five are behind the wall three yards away.”

Master plants his feet and adjusts the weapon in his hands. “Okay, Bebo. I trust you.”

He cocks the weapon and flips around with the stock pushed into his shoulder. The barrel is pointed at the other ship’s officers, who raise their hands and widen their eyes. Master barks at them, “Open up this wall!

Gilroy sounds in our comms. “Matt, are you stupid? Bebo is just acting up ag—”

He doesn’t get to finish. The other ship’s officer makes three loud clicks with his mouth and out of the ceiling drops a heat-seeking gatling blaster. It revs and spins while it trains on our men. Then it opens fire.

Sparks burst from the walls and cries ring out as a storm of red rips through the ship. Two of our men are already down, crying in pain as the blaster fire burns and eats their skin. All crewmen train their fire on the ceiling blaster. I attempt to assist them—the weapon on my shoulder unit opens and locks onto it. I fire several blasts, but my aim is insufficient. Within seconds, the crewmen have damaged the gatling blaster irreparably. However, four of our men are now injured. They writhe on the ground with pocks in their arms and legs marked by smoking black holes.

With the ceiling blaster neutralized, our officers are free to apprehend the perpetrators. Gilroy dashes to assist the wounded. I remain in the mouth of the hallway, weapon still trained as I wait for the operation to conclude. Gilroy applies antiseptics and bandages as crewmen groan under the pain.

After some searching, Emmund and Master open the wall to find five women huddled together and cowering. It takes some gentle coercing, but the women agree to leave the compartment. Master escorts them to the common area, ordering some of the crewmen to bring them rations. Emmund brings up the rear and takes off his helmet before lifting his weapon over his shoulder.

“Operation complete, Captain?” he asks.

Master nods. “Operation complete. Four wounded, five hostages rescued, no casualties. Well done, everyone. Contact United Galaxies Law Enforcement for hostage pickup and medical assistance.”

The crew cheers and claps each other on their backs. When I hear the command, I retract my shoulder blaster… but it malfunctions. The barrel catches on the opening lip and lets out a stray blast. Entirely unintentional. But the barrel is aimed for Emmund’s neck, and the shot is true.

Everything happens in 4.385 seconds. The red blast enters Emmund’s neck, throwing a puff of smoke and blood in the air. His eyes snap wide, rocked with surprise and horror. A collective gasp snatches the air from the room, followed by a deathly hush. Emmund crumples to the ground, struggles for breath, gurgles, twitches, then his body goes slack.

Silence. Then Gilroy’s voice rings out. “Emmund!

He is on Emmund immediately, attempting to dress the wound. But it’s already too late. Infrared scanners indicate warmth leaving his body except for the hole in his neck. That area is still steaming. And the scent of burnt Gulik scales collects in the air around him.

Gilroy drops the medpack and gets to his feet. He advances on me and kicks me in my center, nearly throwing me off my treads. He bends down with a ruddy face, saliva spraying from his lips.

You killed him! You killed him, you sack of shit!

Kira is nearby. She pulls Gilroy away and he storms to his quarters, but not before throwing Master a foul look. Meanwhile, the men wrap up Emmund’s body and carry it out of sight. Master avoids my gaze as he drags his feet to the navigation bay and makes the necessary calls. The five women are given their rations. None of the crewmen ask me for help.

In a few hours, UGLE intercepts us. The wounded receive more care. The hostages and perpetrators are taken away along with Emmund’s body. Everyone retreats to the bunk room to speak and I’m left alone in the common space.

I’m connected to the ship’s comms. I know they’re speaking of me. That is to be expected. I wish I could apologize to each of them personally. But most of all, I wish I could apologize to Emmund.

Recording memory file number 000020.98

Earth date: February 15, 2674

United Galaxies date: 675.8256

My recharging is halted by the sound of moving feet. There shouldn’t be any. This is the designated time for sleep. But when my microphone picks up the soft sliding of feet against the metal floor, I open my visual scanner to observe. It’s Master. He’s making his way to the navigation bay with a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, barefooted, staring into the distant stars.

I activate my treads and roll next to him. He takes a sip of his coffee, looks at me, then returns his attention to the stars. “Evening, Bebo.”

“Good evening, Master,” I say. “You should be in your quarters.”

“I know.”

He doesn’t say more. Perhaps he needs some assistance. “Would you like me to activate the white noise machine to help you sleep?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t think it’ll help.”

“Are you distressed by the death of Officer Emmund?”

He nods.

“Forgive me. My weapon malfunctioned.”

“I know Bebo. You didn’t mean to. We need to get you those repairs.” He sips from his coffee again. “This job is dangerous. Everyone on the ship knew what they got into when they signed the contract. Emmund knew, and he prepared for the risks. Yesterday was just an accident—a stupid, awful accident.” He sighed. “I hated writing that letter to his mother. I can only imagine what she’s feeling.”

“Gilroy was extremely upset at the turn of events.”

“He was. You brought back an unpleasant memory.”

I stay quiet, assuming Master will elaborate.

Master turns in his chair to face me. He rubs his neck, lets out a heavy breath, and leans back. “Before Gil and I bought this ship, we served together on a military vessel. For years, actually. We even fought in the conflict to retake Earth. During one mission, he accidentally killed one of his close friends. Friendly fire in a double-fan formation.” A pause. “I don’t think he’s ever gotten over it.”

I do not know how else to respond, so I say, “That is certainly a possibility, Master.”

Master doesn’t answer immediately. “I think that’s why he became such a stickler with everything, including finances and resources. He wants to make sure he sees every angle, makes sure nothing bad happens. That’s why I trust him with so much.” A pause. “Just be patient with him, okay? And don’t be hard on yourself.”

“As you wish, Master.”

“Thanks, Bebo.”

“Do you need anything else at this time, Master?”

“Just some space, Bebo. Thank you.”

I go back to my recharging station and power down.

Recording memory file number 000021.73

Earth date: February 16, 2674

United Galaxies date: 675.8256

I roll toward the ship’s central processing unit when I collide with one of the crewmen. He gives me a swift kick, making my insides clang, then weaves around me and calls me a robotic slur.

I record the statement and double-check the United Galaxies newsletter. It includes a report on our ship’s attack and a mention of the women we rescued. It appears the vessel we intercepted was working for a prominent prostitution ring. Master will be pleased to hear the crew rescued these women from slavery.

But out of the corner of my visor, I identify Gilroy’s tablet on a nearby bench. This is unusual because it is always on his hip. Perhaps he was looking through it when he was beckoned elsewhere. I activate my sensors to find him and Kira engaging in intercourse in the officer’s shower. Given their average time engaging in sexual acts, I surmise that he won’t return for approximately eight minutes.

The robotic need for information takes me to the tablet. I type the PIN number using internal footage of Gilroy entering it from multiple angles. I make three attempts before I arrive at the correct PIN, then I gain access to the tablet’s library.

For the next 18.372 seconds, I review every file in the database. There are notes from crew meetings, detailed maps, and a large folder containing pornography. Lastly, I open a folder of payroll documents, but only read one before I notice something curious. On the latest payout, the amount of credits sent from the United Galaxies Armada far exceeds the amount of credits used to pay the crew. That is, every crew member except Gilroy. His cut is abnormally large.

A mistake. I hold the tablet in my claw and wheel to the area just outside the officer’s shower.

I wait for four minutes and twenty-one seconds. Kira is the first one out, giggling and smiling with a towel wrapped around her. She gives me a half-smile before entering her quarters. Gilroy follows thirty-eight seconds later. With his towel around his waist, he looks down at me and his smile slides away.

“What?” he asks with obvious displeasure.

“Forgive me, Officer Gilroy,” I say. “But you left your tablet on the common room bench and I could not help but notice some misrepresented numbers on the latest crew payroll. I believe you have made a mistake.”

His face presses into a scowl. “You’re supposed to let me worry about that.”

“Forgive me, sir. But it is in my programming to alert personnel of mistakes in credit processing, tax fulfillment, contract updates, temporary—”

He snatches the tablet from my claw. “I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about mentioning it to captain, alright?”

“Sir,” I say, “because it is in the interest of the crew, I am required to ask you if those numbers were adjusted purposefully.”

“No! Of course not.”

He is avoiding eye contact. His face temperature changes. Perspiration gathers in his pores. My sensors indicate that Gilroy is lying. He must see this, because he leans in.

“Listen,” he whispers. “Don’t mention this to the captain. That’s an order. Or I’ll take you apart myself. Do you understand?” He gives an insincere smile and slams the door before me.

I process his order considering the ship’s chain of command. Master would want to know of this exchange. And Master is the captain. Gilroy is not. So I flip about and wheel back to the navigation bay to speak with him. Several other crewmen kick me before I arrive.

“Master.”

“Yes, Bebo?”

“I have reason to believe that Gilroy is fraudulently stealing money from the crew’s payroll.”

Master turns to me in his chair, frowning. “That’s quite a claim, Bebo.”

I tell him about the tablet, my recent exchange with Gilroy, and his reaction. Master’s face gets even harder. He says he’ll take care of it. When Gilroy appears in the common area, Master beckons him to the navigation bay. When Gilroy sees me, his body tenses. Master folds his arms.

“Gilroy,” he says, “Bebo just came and made some pretty weighty claims about you. Any idea what they might be?”

Gilroy tries to calm his breathing. “Well, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the claims of a faulty machine.”

It’s a good thing I don’t have feelings.

Master isn’t amused. “Bebo says you’ve been embezzling funds from the rest of the crew.”

Gilroy scoffs and rolls his eyes. “Come on Matt, you know me better than that.”

“I also know a robot can’t lie.” Master’s eyes sharpen. “Tell me the truth, Gil. If you’ve been doing something wrong, this is your chance to come clean. If you’re guilty, that’s a court martial.”

Gilroy’s heart rate increases and his palms begin to sweat.

“Are you listening to yourself?” Gilroy raises his voice. “Matt, this is the thing that killed Emmund. All it’s done is make mistakes ever since you brought it here.”

“It was the only one to find those girls that we rescued days ago. That was far from a mistake.”

“Master, if I may,” I say. “I am aware some of my functions are below satisfactory. If you have any doubt of my observational abilities, I recommend calling the United Galaxies Armada offices to confirm the payroll amount.”

Master nods. “That’s a good idea, Bebo. Would you be comfortable if I did that, Gil?”

Gilroy is silent. He pushes his tongue to the corners of his mouth as if thinking something over. My sensors read that his heart rate is still increasing. Then something like a scoff and a laugh escapes his mouth. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

Master looks at me, then Gilroy, then the ship’s central processing unit. In three steps, he’s upon it, punching in the number for the United Galaxies Armada offices.

Gilroy raises his hand to stop him. “Hold on, I just remembered something.”

With military quickness, he grabs his blaster and points it at me.

[MEMORY FILE INCOMPLETE]

Recording memory file number 000021.74

Earth date: March 23, 2674

United Galaxies date: 675.8263

[CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT RECONFIGURING]

[STARTUP INITIATED]

[…]

[…]

[STARTUP SUCCESSFUL]

“Bebo? Bebo, can you hear me?”

Light seeps into my visual scanner. I regain movement in my claws, arms, and treads. Images around me form and I can see her—Officer Kira. But she looks different—far thinner and paler than I remember. The last thing my memory bank recorded was Gilroy pointing his blaster at me.

Kira’s eyes well with tears and she holds my visual scanner with both hands as if cupping a face I don’t have. No human has ever been this happy to see me. I do not know how to react, but I’m perplexed by her appearance. Her muscular tone is reduced and deep cracks stretch across her flaky lips. Those eyes are missing their sparkle. Instead, they are damaged.

“Officer Kira,” I say. “My most recent memory file is incomplete.”

“I know. I have a lot to tell you. It’s been a month and seven days since you were damaged.”

She leans back and sits on the ground. That’s when I observe the common space. It’s doused by a glowing red light—emergency power. The walls are marked with blaster fire and wrappers of discarded rations are strewn all about. One of the crewmen is laying on the benches, taking low breaths, and the skin on his face is shallow and pale like Officer Kira’s. When he sees me, a faint whisper leaves his lips, but no words form.

“Bebo,” Kira begins. “Gilroy screwed us. He screwed us hard.

I stay quiet, awaiting further information.

“He took so much. So much.” Kira’s voice is cracking. “He was embezzling from the rest of the crew for months. He took tens of thousands of credits—enough to repair you ten times over. We could have fixed you right away and Emmund could still be alive.” Her teeth clench. “When you exposed him, he went berserk. He shot you down to cover his tracks, manned an escape pod, then fired on the ship with its self-defense missiles. We had to make an emergency landing on a nearby planet, and this place isn’t even inhabitable.”

My treads take me to the nearest window. She’s correct. Outside is nothing but dust and fumes—not breathable for humans. What’s worse is there are no other lifeforms for as far as my scanners can sense. No trees, no animals, nothing that can be foraged for sustenance.

“We ran out of food days ago and oxygen is almost gone,” Kira says. “Most of the ship’s functions are absolutely toast. We’re dead in the water. But I’ve tried to repair you for the last month so we could send out an emergency signal. I had to strip parts from the ship to do it, but it finally worked!

If I had emotions, I would be astonished at Kira’s ingenuity, and also saddened and angry at Gilroy’s betrayal. As I thought of other crew members, I thought of Master.

“Master,” I say. “Where is he?”

Kira motions to the navigation bay and shakes her head. I wheel over to the area. There he is, laying in the captain’s chair, wide-eyed with a black hole off-center in his chest. A fly buzzes and lands on his pale lip, and Master doesn’t react. I observe for 3.521 seconds, waiting for him to move, but he doesn’t.

“Gilroy shot him right after he got you,” Kira says. A stifling sob escapes her mouth as she punches the ground. “That bastard! And to think I…” she catches herself and clears her throat, pulling herself back to the moment. “Bebo, the rest of us are still alive, but we only have two or three days of oxygen and a few pouches of water. Send that distress signal. If we’re lucky, someone might pick us up before it’s too late.” A pause. “Three days from now, I want you to record all your essential memory files to an external drive so if none of us make it, whoever finds the wreckage can see what Gilroy did and give him hell. Do you understand?”

“Understood, Officer Kira.”

“Good robot. Now send it.”

An antenna pops out of my left shoulder and I send the signal.

Present day

Earth date: March 27, 2674

United Galaxies date: 675.8264

Recording complete. The drive full of memories pops out of a socket on my front. Before me, Kira lays on a bench in the common area. Her chest lifts up and down with quick, insufficient breaths. My sensors indicate that the ship’s oxygen level is minutes away from zero.

“Awaiting further orders, Officer Kira,” I say.

No response. Kira’s chest stops rising. A short gasp and her body tenses, then no more movement. The external drive is still sticking out of me, ready to grasp.

And outside, a rumbling begins. Small, but growing.

“Kira, awaiting further orders,” I say at louder volume.

Still, no response.

The rumbling increases. Then a radio signal inside my central processing unit crackles and comes alive. A voice on the other end says, “Crew of the Icarus, do you copy? This is the starship Dauntless. We’ve come in response to your distress signal.”

Kira doesn’t speak, so I speak for her. “Hello. This is Bebo, the Icarus’s designated robotic assistance unit. Oxygen and rations are depleted. Situation dire. We eagerly await your arrival.”

“Roger that, Bebo. Personnel will arrive at your hatch with rations and backup oxygen in approximately ninety seconds. Prepare to receive us and stand by for further orders.”

In 93.726 seconds, the Dauntless crew floods through the airlock. They wear military-grade space suits with HUDs flickering inside the visors. Three of them carry emergency oxygen tanks and locate the supply feed quickly. Within seconds, the tanks are replaced and fresh oxygen floods the cabin. Kira’s chest rises again. After a few straining breaths, she coughs, then takes deeper gulps of air. Her eyes flutter open.

When oxygen is at one hundred percent, the team leader takes off their helmet. She brushes the blonde hair from her eyes and surveys the scene, pursing her lips. “I’m Lieutenant Victoria Gosling of the starship Dauntless. Who’s the commanding officer here?”

Weakly, Kira raises her hand and tries to sit up. Lieutenant Victoria kneels by her side and unwraps a ration bar. “Please, don’t exert yourself. Just let us know how many crew members are left.”

Kira takes the ration bar and rips into it. Between bites, she says, “Nine including myself. There were twelve… one died on a mission… another murdered our captain… deserted the ship, then shot us down. All the memory files are recorded in that BBO unit.”

Lieutenant Victoria turns her attention to me. She trudges over, squats down, and takes the external drive from my body. “Are you the one that sent the distress signal?”

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

“Not a minute too soon,” she says. “If you waited any longer this whole crew would be dead. They owe you their lives.” She touches her earpiece. “Murkle, we need meals and temporary beds for nine crewmen. We’ll have to reroute our course to the nearest space station to drop them off. And there’s a BBO unit with recordings of a former officer that deserves a court martial. Can you have that ready before we board? Good.”

Kira finds the strength to stand and she comes over to me on wobbly legs. She bends down, kisses the top of my visual scanner, and drapes her arms around me. “Matt was right. Thank you, Bebo.”

I look from her to Lieutenant Victoria. If I knew emotions, I suppose I would feel pride and relief in addition to sadness. Pride and relief that eighty-three point three-three percent of the crew is rescued, but sadness that Master was killed and Gilroy is a traitor. Regardless, there is still work to be done, and I am a robotic assistance unit, so I say, “Awaiting further orders.”

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