Warning: This, though classified technically as a short story, is long. It consists of over 3500 words. Please, be prepared. Furthermore, this story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone alive or dead is purely unintentional, with a few noted exceptions.
“You have a ship?” Dane declared incredulously. “This I gotta see.”
“It’s a do-it-yourself project Uncle Ben and I are working on,” replied Jack, knowing he sounded more than a little defensive and hating himself for it, “and I never said it was mine.”
He and Uncle Ben had been working on the ship since Jack was five, back when his parents died in a space freighter collision. Benjamin Pallikari, a close friend of Jack’s mother, had ended up with responsibility for her son and, though Benjamin wasn’t even related to the family, Jack had learned to call him “Uncle Ben.” He’d started out just handing Ben tools and fasteners and doing his best to just stay out of the way. Now, it almost felt like he and Uncle Ben were partners.
Hopping off the hoverbus at the corner of Oak St. and 5th Ave, Jack was irritated to find that Dane jumped off the bus with him. Apparently, he was serious about wanting to see the ship. It belonged to Ben, who had been working on it for years prior to his guardianship of Jack. It was his baby. Jack had even caught the older man talking to it from time to time.
The last few weeks, however, he hadn’t seen much of Ben. What with academy finals and graduation and everything, Jack had been pretty busy. As it turned out, he had just barely scraped a passing grade in his piloting class. He had begun to wish Ben had never sent him to Watersmith Space Academy in the first place. First of all, it had been expensive, so most of the money Jack’s parents had left him had been used up with the academy’s tuition, books and other necessary items. Second, most of the rest of the students who went there were rich flyboys like Dane Jeffers who were born with silver spoons in their mouths and a rich mommy and daddy ready to buy them a cushy job at Interplanetary Shuttles or where ever else they wanted to go next.
The result, of course, was that Jack had very few friends, if any, at the academy and Dane wasn’t even close to being one of them, even though Dane didn’t really fit in anywhere at Watersmith Academy either. Dane’s problem, though, was that he was addicted to race piloting. He kept bragging about the ship he’d own when he became a famous racing pilot even when people like Jack had long since lost interest.
Jack stopped at last in front of a building. It had been a new construction back in 2025, but now it was old and run-down. The sign hanging over the shop at the bottom level was the only new thing about it. A holographic projection, it read “Ben’s Space Repair & Parts” and had little cartoon rockets that buzzed around it like flies around a piece of rotting food. Jack had often imagined what the reaction of some of the academy’s students would be if they ever saw him walking into a place like this and Dane’s supercilious smirk was just about what he’d figured he’d see.
Jack did his best to ignore it. After all, Dane was going to be Jack’s mealticket for a while. Since Jack was top of the class in mechanics and engineering, thanks in large part to Uncle Ben and his ship project, and Dane’s father had bought him a top-of-the-line, royal blue Ceti Star Flyer, Dane had offered him a job as his head mechanic. Not knowing what else to do with himself following graduation, Jack had accepted.
Avoiding the cluttered front office, Jack walked around the back of the building instead. There, instead of a grassy back yard, was a small hangar. Ben did much of the lighter work for his clients here. Also, tucked away in the back, was the ship. Jack smiled as he slid his fingers along the light controls, illuminating the workspace.
“That’s your ship?” Dane scoffed as the light played along the beat-up surface of the ship’s hull. “What a hunk of junk!”
“She might not be as sleek as your Flyer,” Jack bristled, “but she’s got it where it counts, Dane. This just happens to be the fastest ‘hunk of junk’ in the galaxy.”
“Sure,” Dane replied, laughing, “and I’m the king of Cashmere.”
Jack ground his teeth in rage, but held his tongue. Best not to lose his temper at his future boss when he hadn’t even started working for him, yet.
“Maybe you’d like to race against me in this sometime,” Dane continued, still laughing. “Then I can show you how fast a real ship can fly. See you next Friday. Don’t be late.” Laughing uproariously all the way, Dane turned and left the hangar.
Jack sighed as he watched him go. Just then a head poked out of the ship’s entry hatch.
“What was all that noise?” the head’s owner asked.
“Just a stray that followed me home, Uncle Ben,” Jack replied irritably, walking to the hangar closet to grab his coveralls.
“You don’t have to do that this time, Jack,” Ben smiled, limping down the gangway, his cybernetic leg clanking heavily with every other step. Ben had lost the leg in an accident when Jack was nine and had designed the prosthesis he now wore in its place himself. “I was just adding a few finishing touches but, for all intents and purposes, she’s finished.”
“Really?” Jack replied, glancing up at the ship’s name plate. “Wavemistress?” he asked, curious.
“It’s what my wife used to call herself,” Ben replied, wiping his hands on an old cotton cloth that dangled from his coverall pocket. “I was the captain and she was my wavemistress. You know, like a first mate of sorts.” He jammed the soiled cloth back into his pocket. “Go on up,” he added, gesturing to the entry hatch. “Take a look.”
Walking up the gangway, Jack noted all the changes Ben had made. Bare metal panelling had been painted with heat resistant gel paint in a deep, dark green color. The console, a concave panel of buttons, dials and readout screens now gleamed silver in the room’s subdued lighting. In the center, a large, padded-leather chair sat before the console room’s largest window. As Ben entered behind him, a female voice issued from one of the speakers. “Welcome back, Ben.” The older man smiled at the shocked look on the face of his charge.
“What is it?” Jack gasped.
“I call her a Cybernetic Interface Module, or CIM for short,” Ben explained. “She’s highly adaptable, intelligent and very curious. In fact, she may well be the first artificial intelligence created outside of a lab. Right, sweetheart?”
“My research indicates you are, in fact, correct,” the voice replied cheerily.
“So what do you think of her?” Ben asked.
“She’s perfect,” Jack responded, running a finger across the silvery console top.
“I’m glad you think so,” Ben smiled softly, “because I’m giving her to you.”
If Jack had been chewing any gum at that point, he’d have lost it. “But you can’t– you can’t just…” he faltered.
“She needs you,” Ben added, placing a fatherly hand on Jack’s shoulder. “I’m getting too old for this sort of thing, especially now that I have this,” he gestured to his cybernetic leg, “and I can’t just hand her off to some buyer. That’d be like selling off my first-born child. How would I guarantee she’d be well taken care of? You, on the other hand, know most of the systems built into her at least as intimately as I do.”
Jack looked longingly at the brushed plasteel console then back at the man who had effectively become like his father.
Ben smiled broadly. “Activate Holographic Avatar.”
Instantly, a set of lights came on and a tall, slender, brunette beauty appeared in the room, as if she’d been teleported there. Her hair had deep waves in it and her large eyes were the color of melted chocolate. She was dressed in the kind of dress that was popular in the early twenty-first century, but cut modestly. It was a kind of bordeaux cherry red with large pink and purple flowers on it. Her feet, interestingly enough, were bare.
Jack gulped. “This is what your wife looked like?” he managed.
“No,” Ben laughed.
“My research tells me,” the strange woman added, “that this is the ‘type’ of woman you prefer.”
Jack reached out to touch her and his hand passed right through her body.
“She’s not real,” Ben chortled. “She’s a hologram. So you don’t have to spend all your time on long, boring trips talking to a computer console.”
The woman smiled uncertainly.
“Why are her feet bare?” Jack asked next.
“I find human anatomy fascinating,” the woman replied, smiling cheerfully again. “Particularly the feet. I understand that you humans wear shoes to protect your feet from wear and tear. However, as my feet are only a holographic projection, I prefer to display them.” She pushed her skirt out of the way and bent to look delightedly at her feet, wiggling the toes and smiling.
“I’ll be back,” Ben smiled, turning to the entry hatch. “I have a few errands I need to run.”
“Oh, okay,” Jack frowned, turning to Ben, “I’ll go with…”
“No, you won’t,” Ben replied firmly, grabbing him by the arm and turning him back around. “You’re going to stay right here and talk with the Wavemistress.” He gave Jack a shove between the shoulder-blades. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon.”
Jack looked back over his shoulder, watching through a window as Ben disappeared through the hangar door. When he turned back, however, the strange woman was frowning in worry.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, curious in spite of himself.
“You don’t like me, do you?” she asked sadly.
He blinked. “No, it’s not that,” he replied. “It’s just that this came as something of a surprise.”
“Oh!” she replied, smiling more confidently now. She gestured to the console chair. “Won’t you sit?”
“Thanks,” Jack replied. “Don’t mind if I do.” So saying, he walked over and sat down. The chair adjusted itself to his comfort. “Hey, that’s nice. Does it do anything else?”
“Of course,” she nodded, smiling as she hopped onto the console surface, “It can also perform a gentle massage and, if necessary, lean backwards. As speeds necessitate, a harness will be provided.”
Jack nodded, impressed in spite of himself. Idly he watch her study her feet as they swung back and forth underneath her and realized he was having a hard time thinking of her as a projection.
“What’s it like?” he asked, a little hesitant.
“What’s what like?” she responded, those liquid, brown eyes of hers finding his.
“Well,” Jack faltered, trying to find the words to explain himself, “when you were born. You know. Uncle Ben created you and I was just wondering what it was like to be created.”
She smiled fondly, as if remembering something pleasant. “I don’t have any frame of reference for comparison,” she told him. “I’ve searched human databases and I understand that the creation of human persons and personae is quite different, but I have no way of experiencing that for myself.”
“But I could tell you what happened,” she added hopefully.
Jack found himself leaning forward with interest.
She looked down at her hands. “Well, the first thing I remember is a hard flat surface. After that, I remember an electrical charge and then I was looking at him.”
“The first thing I remember,” Jack replied wistfully, “was the feel of my dad’s tee-shirt against my skin.”
“That’s beautiful,” she smiled. They were silent for a while before she added. “I wish you would stay.”
“What makes you think I’m not going to stay?” he replied, surprised.
“City shuttle records list you as leaving the city with a Mr. Dane Jeffers and his crew this coming Friday,” she replied, the human image dissolving into nothingness.
“Oh, him,” Jack replied, looking around the console room. “That was before I knew that I was meeting you.”
“Please, don’t attempt to soothe me,” she responded. He could swear she sounded disappointed. “I’ve read the travel manifesto. Your name is listed among the support personnel of this Dane Jeffers as a mechanic.” A screen on the wall came on, showing the document she was talking about. His name, Jonathan Preston Leight, was highlighted in lavender.
“Yeah,” Jack said, looking down at his own hands. “When he offered me the job, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. Now, there’s a good chance that I’ll probably be leaving tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” she responded, sounding confused. “I see no records…”
“That’s because they don’t exist, yet,” Jack told her, reaching out to touch the spot where she’d been sitting. “I don’t really care about Dane anyway. He wants to be a racer. I just want a life. Dane thought he was throwing me a bone when he offered me that mechanic’s job, but he didn’t know Ben was going to throw me the whole cow.”
The holographic woman reappeared again standing beside him, her face a study in joyful hope. “Do you mean…” she hesitated.
He stood, straightening his clothing, “Hi, my name’s Jonathan Leight, but my friends call me Jack.”
She responded with a delighted smile. “May I call you Jack?” she asked.
“I’d prefer it, actually,” he replied, smiling back. “Only my teachers insist on calling me Jonathan, and none of them even like me. Even Ben calls me Jack.”
“And what about me?” she asked, stepping toward him, “You can’t call me Wavemistress all the time. It would be…”
“Awkward,” he finished for her.
She smiled, nodding.
“Well, what did Ben say you were?” he asked, walking idly around her. Watching how her image flickered when he crossed one of the lines of projection created by the cameras.
“I am a cybernetic interface module,” she answered quickly, “or CIM for short.”
“Well, then let’s call you Cim,” he offered. Her smile grew, if possible, even broader.
“So,” he grinned, turning to the console, “now that we’re acquainted, all we have to do is register you in my name and…”
“I can take care of that,” she interrupted. “However, if you and I are going to be together, there’s a little matter of security we need to take care of, first.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked hesitantly.
“I mean, if someone manages to counterfeit your appearance and try to steal me,” she replied, walking around him studiously, “I want to be able to tell the difference. Do you agree to this?”
“Sounds almost like I’m getting married,” Jack chuckled.
“Married?” she replied, sounding confused.
“It’s like a contract between two living beings,” Jack explained, “to remain together throughout their lifetimes and share all the good and bad that happens to them.”
“Oh,” Cim responded, blinking. “Well, then that’s probably what we’re doing here.”
“Ah,” Jack said, inexplicably uncomfortable all of a sudden.
“Are you all right?” Cim asked then, her eyebrows drawing up in concern. “Your blood pressure just elevated.”
“Just nervous,” Jack told her. “Go ahead.”
She smiled reassuringly, then began rattling off rapid-fire statistics relating to his bodily health, from his height and weight all the way to the amount of sweat he was putting out, and asking him questions relating to these statistics.
“One last thing,” she added, walking over to the console. “A blood test.”
“Ah,” Jack grimaced, “I don’t like needles.”
“No needles,” she replied, still trying to reassure him. “Just a little pin prick. Place your hand here.” She gestured to a panel which opened to reveal a palm scanner.
Jack did as he was told. Following a fast scan of the length and breadth of his hand, there was a quick stab in the flesh of his thumb, followed by an equally quick spray of Insta-Cover, a liquid bandaging compound that dried instantaneously upon contact with the skin.
“Would you like to see your quarters?” Cim asked next, all eagerness.
“Okay,” Jack replied, absently rubbing the place where she’d poked him.
She led the way down a short hallway, her image flickering strangely as new cameras switched on to take up her movements, while old ones, no longer needed, switched off.
“This room is guest quarters,” she pointed. “We’ve got room for up to four regular-sized passengers or extra crew. Your quarters are opposite.” She gestured, then, and a door slid aside revealing a room that was at least twice the size of Jack’s room above the shop paneled all in a dark, evergreen color, except for the floor, which was a fine, silvery, plasteel mesh.
“There’s no furniture,” Jack pointed out.
“Of course, there is,” Cim replied. “Push one of these.” She pointed to a panel of lit buttons by the doorway. He pressed one and a panel in the wall dropped slowly to reveal a bed. He pressed it again and the bed disappeared into the wall. He pressed another and a desk and chair slid out from beneath another panel. A third opened a previously hidden closet door and chest of drawers built into the wall. The closet door, quite naturally, had a full-length mirror attached to the inside. “Naturally, I can control everything in this room remotely,” she added, and as she said this, the desk, the closet and the chest of drawers all receded into the wall.
“What’s this one for?” he asked, pressing a button marked with a piece of tape that read “Congratulations, Graduate” in Ben’s careful hand writing. As Jack’s finger left the button a small panel opened, revealing a hole at about the level of his groin. It was too big for his finger.
“That’s the MR port,” Cim replied.
“MR port?” Jack frowned. “What’s that stand for?”
“Marital Relations,” Cim replied, her image reddening slightly.
“Oh,” Jack said, hurriedly re-pressing the button so that the port covered itself again. “What about the bathroom?”
“This one,” Cim reponded pointing to another button on the door panel. He pressed it and a door slid open to reveal a small darkened room. A second later, a light snapped on. The room was just the right size for a shower. There was even a drain at the bottom and a curtain on one side.
“No toilet?” Jack asked. Immediately, a panel slid away and a toilet was pushed into the room.
“Everything in this cubicle is voice activated,” Cim informed him. “Ben was worried that buttons would short something out if they got wet. Just say what you want and it’ll appear.”
“Shower,” Jack tried. The toilet slid away and was covered. Then the shower curtain slid over the opening and water began to cascade down from the ceiling.”
“I carry about thirty-seven liters of water in my reservoir.” she informed him. “I also have an onboard water purification system, so any waste water is immediately recycled. Solid waste is packed into bricks and baked. When we’re at a station or planet-side, it can be removed and burned and my water reserves can be either replenished or completely replaced.”
“So, no sonic shower?” he asked, incredulous.
“No, sir,” she smiled, “just real, honest water.” As she spoke, the shower turned itself off and the curtain retracted to the wall again. “I even have my own ironing board,” she added in a rather boastful tone. A slim door opened and an ironing board emerged at about waist height. With it, an arm appeared carrying an iron.”
“Fantastic,” he responded enthusiastically, watching as the appliances retracted themselves again. “That leaves only one more thing.”
“What would that be?” she laughed.
“I gotta go get my things!” he yelled and began to dance across the floor of the now empty room.
“I think someone may already have taken care of that,” Cim declared, watching him.
“What?” Jack gasped, sliding with a crash into the far wall.
Cim brought her fingers together in a kind of frame, then pulled them out. As she did so, a holographic screen appeared. On it, Jack saw Uncle Ben struggling into the hangar bay with two suitcases, a garment bag and a large, plastic box presumably containing all of Jack’s worldly possessions.
“Son of a gun!” Jack laughed. “How did he know?”
I hope you enjoyed the first of the many adventures of Captain Jack Leight and his faithful ship, the Wavemistress. Captain Jack is supposed to be one part Dr. Who, one part Han Solo and one part my husband. He can have companions and friends that take as much part in his adventures as he and his ship do.
Now, as I’m sure you’re aware, in order for a science-fiction adventure story to work, you need some adventure and some drama. When I say adventure, I mean like in Indiana Jones or Star Wars. When I say drama, I mean like in soap operas or the X-Men comics. That’s where you come in!
What sort of adventures would you like to see Capt. Jack having? What sort of drama do you think would complicate his life to the best effect? Tell me and I’ll work it in there somewhere and give you the credit. What’s more, if I can put together enough stories and this feature is popular enough, I may even try to publish it in book form and I’ll list the names or usernames of everyone who helped me write it.
Please, readers, help me get Capt. Jack and his friends into trouble and then let’s see what they do to get out again.