Through the window, the first construction shuttle can be seen angling away from the station on its way back to Earth after successfully attaching the medical pod.

Maurice sits at the large window. The Texan’s hat floats above his head. “God’s speed.” He murmurs.

“Attention, Ulm Station personnel,” states the voice of Omar Panderyn over the public address system. “I’m getting reports of power fluctuations in the couplings between the crew compartment and the medical bay. We’re going to postpone linkage with the military pod until this is sorted out.”

“We got a military pod..?” Maurice says this in his head of course. He isn’t an insane man speaking to himself and all… most days… as long as the Oak Ridge Boys aren’t playing. The Texan starts to move for said junction once his wits are about him.

“Initiating,” comes a digitized male voice from a nearby console.

“What are ya Initiating there guy?!” Maurice cries out as he flies towards junction. The big ole Texan tries to dodge and juke his way there. “Good thing Doc-chan is asleep…”

“I’m Albert,” the voice replies. “Artificial intelligence. I was uploaded to Ulm Station to provide assistance in management of the facilities.”

“Well… Al.. what seems to be our problem?” Maurice asks out loud. The Texan tries to catch himself on a door way. “Are we.. ya know.. fleshy types all gonna kick the bucket or ya all playin with these announcements?”

“I detect no significant problems aboard the station,” Albert answers. “I am in the process of rerouting power to balance the dispersion. The new equipment in the medical pod is a bit of a drain.”

“No shit! Doc-chan showed me things that broke the god damn Geneva Convention. Ya ask me this here homo-pathio…. whatever aint nearly as fun as ya run of the mill Homo-se…. How about them Dallas Cowboys in the World Football League?!” The Texan’s ‘stach twitches. “You got a rec room hidden anywhere?”

“Your dialect requires more rigorous filtering,” Albert states. “If I understand the inquiry correctly, Ulm Station does not, at present, include a recreation facility among its amenities.”

“That would be West Texas….. West Texas… aint a draw really.. or a… shit.. aint Mid American either…” Maurice seems to be deep in thought for a short time. “Label it under Maurice speak for now.” H offers in time. “I figured the station wouldn’t have anything fun at the moment. If ya are a big ole brain case.. ya tell me anything of value from the high and mighty’s ftl program? I might be a test chimp but I figure I deserve the basics.”

“I am awaiting input from Mr. Panderyn as to the appropriate clearance levels for all station personnel,” Albert states. “Until then, I am not permitted to release data contained within classified files.”

“Bondvillian-sama…” Maurice nods his head slightly. “That sounds just about right Al. What interesting things can ya tell me? Play Texas Hold em?”

“My programming does include a collection of holographic games of chance,” Albert confirms.

Maurice chuckles slightly. “Any booze reserve and drinking games included?”

“None that I am aware of,” Albert replies.

“That figures really.” Maurice replies with a small chuckle. “Well ya are a super computer and all… Given the current state of tech and application of said tech.. what is the current life span of a test pilot?”

“It depends on the pilot,” the AI replies.

Maurice nods his head. “Gonna figure you have my records and field reports… reports about me.” The Texan says. “I figure nothin about me life is secret from you.”

“Actually, I am awaiting upload of personnel records,” Albert states. “Mr. Panderyn is slumbering. He may upload the data during the morning shift. Would you like an analysis after that?”

Maurice’s ‘stache twitches and he nods his head. “Gotta make sure I am the right pilot and not the right pilot at the right time.” He murmurs. “Using the data you have at hand, what do you project our odds of making it past the light speed barrier?”

“Slim,” Albert replies. “Realistically, it is possible that a potentially viable theory may be developed aboard Ulm Station. It is largely impractical, however, to translate that into functioning technology with broad applications.”

“A fucking star drive isn’t going to make for toaster ovens.” Maurice shakes his head. “We get this to work it is going to be used for impractical stuff like banging sexy green men. Slim is better than… well spending the week end in Waco.”

“I have never spent a weekend in Waco,” Albert replies. “Thus, I lack a proper frame of reference to understand.”

“Waco is… it is the end of the world.” Maurice offers with a twitch of his moustache. “I suppose Plano is a little…… If mankind is limited to earth, the moon and Mars, how much longer can we exepect survive?”

“Mankind faced eradication while simply dwelling on Earth,” Albert states. “Colonizing Luna and Mars radically improved humanity’s chances for long-term survival on a cosmic scale. However, Sol must necessarily perish in the distant future. Remaining here is not a permanently viable solution. It is critical that humanity pursue a future beyond this star.”

Maurice lifts a brow at this answer and slowly nods his head. “We leave the nest or die..” He flicks his hat back and rubs his forehead. “That makes the whole of the world a lot easier doesn’t it? We just have to convince the remaining bigwigs. We grow beyond now or we strangle and die.”

“That seems accurate,” the AI responds.

“I could rap that in a bow.” Maurice replies with a rueful chuckle. “How likely would it be that we ran into a habitial system.. or alien life in our first say… hundred tests of a real FTL?”

“Alien life, quite likely,” Albert says. “Sentient alien life with a developed civilization that warrants first contact – exceedingly slim.”

“I get ya. We are more than likely to meet a fern than orange Captain Kirk right?” Maurice replies. “Not suprise. Alien life of a level like us or higher… do we play idiots or assume the best in them? I don’t imagine a middle ground. We trust in ET or blow him off.”

“I am ill-equipped for matters of diplomacy,” the AI confesses.

Maurice’s stach twitches. “And several other things as well as I imagine.” He says. “I don’t imagine you can dispense gin or tonice either.” He adds. “How did you decide you were a male AI? They make you that way? Could you be a sassy lady if you wanted?”

“I was programmed with this voice and this personality,” Albert replies. “It is possible that I could be reprogrammed with different parameters.”

“Possible but not with my talent or lack thereof.” Maurice says with a small small. “What can you tell me of this military pod? Is there any danger of us needing to knife fight up here? Seems like an odd module for a peaceful station.”

“Uncertain,” the AI replies. “Power fluctuations are marginalized. Entering conservation mode for now. Thank you for your attention.”

“You too buddy. Let me know when I have to kiss my own ass away in the near future.” Maurice grins.

By Brody

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