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I tell myself Miranda would have wanted this.
I know as I stand in the ship’s blood-splattered control booth, that Lilith sees me. Her Pilot processors whir, approximating my height and weight. My muscle mass. My age. Miranda programmed her to assess potential threats, after all, and my wife was nothing if not thorough, but Lilith doesn’t seem alarmed.
Maybe because it’s me holding the detonator.
Miranda would never have feared me.
Lilith simply slouches against the terminal, her cobbled-together body slumped, hip cocked, a human quirk of Miranda’s that the Pilot AI she created never quite erased, as she begins hacking into the ship’s communication system.
Lilith doesn’t understand.
Grief is a dangerous thing.
* * *
I remember the first time I saw the pieces of Lilith in Miranda’s lab, paper thin circuit boards spread over the assembly table like doilies, chunks of thighs and arms floating in preservation tanks, kidneys suspended above Miranda’s work station like jewels.
“Donated, of course,” Miranda said, oblivious to my revulsion as I peered inside the largest tank, where gray matter coiled away from a woman’s severed skull like hair. “It’s Lilith Booker. You remember her from Deep Space Mining’s investor gala last fall? Brice’s wife? Turns out, she overheard that conversation about organics being better for the Pilot program than lab-grown tissue. She left her body to science.”
I swallowed thickly and wondered if Lilith would’ve been all right with her corpse carved apart and stitched back together like this. Had she honestly believed Brice and the other Deep Space Mining investors cared about her legacy? Her donated organic tissue was another expense avoided, and Brice had been grumbling about the Pilot programs ‘exorbitant’ research costs for months. He cared about profit, not science.
Nightmares of what that might mean for Miranda’s safety during the test flight, alone in the dark with that golem, had haunted me for weeks.
“How do you know she’ll be stable?” I asked. “I know you wrote her code, but, hell, you didn’t grow her, and the Deep Space Mining guys get the final programming pass. You know what they’re like. They don’t give a rat’s—”
“What do you want me to do, Denise?” Miranda pressed her palm against the tank. “I signed a contract. Besides, this is what Lilith Booker wanted. Immortality. To be part of something bigger than herself. I’m sorry you don’t understand that.”
We argued then, just like we had a dozen times before, about safety and posterity, corrupt investors and ethics and vulnerability, our voices pitching louder and louder until Miranda finally said, “Oh. Sweetheart. Your ulcer.”
Later, our tempers cooled, she tugged me into an alcove, ran a delicate hand over my cheek and kissed me. “The end will justify the means, love. What difference does it make as long as we get a Pilot into space? Besides, I’m the brains of the operation. They won’t let anything happen to me. They need me.”
I sighed. “At least take my Taser with you.”
“All right,” she murmured into my hair.
Still, a week before the test flight, I renewed my Flight Safety Clearance in spite of the antacids I was popping like candy. I hacked the ship’s computer and the scuttle codes and emergency detonators, so I could protect Miranda in case those nightmares I’d been having lurched to life.
When Miranda saw my name on the ship’s manifest, she was furious I didn’t trust her to take care of herself. Her shoulders tensed as we ate dinner that night, her food growing cold on her plate, her gaze drifting toward the kitchen window as if she’d rather have been out there in the cold dark than with me.
“Miranda, please…” I reached for her hand, but before I could touch her, she stood and took her dishes to the sink.
We slept back to back that night, the space between us unbridgeable.
I thought I’d make it up to her by keeping her alive.
* * *
My wife is dead.
I tighten my fingers around the detonator as Lilith bores her way deeper into the ship’s computer. The communication code for Deep Space Mining flashes on the screen and then, over and over, ‘UPLOAD PENDING.’ Lilith cocks her head, like Miranda used to cock her head, my wife’s blood smeared on her cheek like a bright red swath of rouge.
My grief burns.
Funny how all of Lilith’s safeties failed when she saw that Taser on Miranda’s hip. Funny how the emergency overrides the Deep Space Mining programmers were supposed to double-check refused to kick in, how nothing stopped Lilith from ripping Miranda’s right arm away or twisting her skull to pulp, or pulling her spine from the gaping hole in her lovely neck.
Funny how Lilith had received a suspicious, encrypted communique from Brice’s security team the night before.
If Lilith relays her findings now, Brice and the other investors will have access to everything, all of Miranda’s research, every nuance of the work she never lived to finish.
It will make them all very rich.
The detonator is warm in my palm. “She didn’t create you for this.”
“I am the Pilot.” I hear Miranda in the way Lilith forms her ‘o’s. I see her echoed in the perpetual crease between Lilith’s eyebrows, the contour of her jaw where flesh meets silicone. The pride there. The optimism. The unflinching, stubborn, beautiful woman I fell in love with, evidenced in a delicate hand on her hip.
If I don’t do something, my wife’s legacy will be parceled and hacked apart, a piecemeal abomination sold to the highest bidder, stitched back together into something soulless and unrecognizable.
I take a deep breath.
I tell myself Miranda would have wanted this when I toggle the detonator.
I tell myself I see Miranda beside me, alive, immortal and, in that final, blinding flash, the pieces of her sear into me, brilliant and inescapable, expanding ever outward into the vast and silent dark.
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