We have Something in Common

We have Something in Common

Despite the incessant ding of the open elevator doors indicating he had reached his destination, Domerin Lorcasf lingered in the small metallic chamber with his arms crossed over his chest. “Good morning, Argus,” he called to the empty air. “How are you?”

“Greetings, Commander Lorcasf,” the monotone voice sounded all around him. Somehow, it always seemed to carry more emotion than the voice of its owner. “I believe I am well. And yourself?”

Only after the AI spoke the question did the commander abandon the elevator and pass through the dimly lit hallway to the server chamber. Cool air washed over him as the door slid closed in his wake. Lights blinked and fans whirred. The chamber was surprisingly quiet considering the amount of machinery lining its walls. He wove between racks of computer equipment with practiced ease.

This room, large by architectural standards but small considering its purpose, served as the computing core for the entire kingdom. Every communication that crossed the Faenet passed through this room. Every page or message board a person called to their monitor from the comfort of their living room or office cubicle, passed through this hub before it reached their eyes. Only messages sent directly via Faerie skipped the security check, and only because they expected exorbitant fees to institute a customized security policy.

He’d almost rather deal with a faerie than the young woman he’d come to see. Her stasis tube lay at the very center of the chamber, for convenience though it was also somewhat symbolic. After all, she served as the nerve center of the mainframe in the same way this hub served as the heart of the kingdom’s computer network.

“So your creator hasn’t seen fit to program you any emotions yet, I take it?” He clicked his tongue.

“Why would I want to do that?” the young woman’s response was both immediate and dripping with disdain. “And ruin my AI? I thought you were cleverer than that.”

“Clever and wise aren’t the same thing, young lady. I thought you would have realized that by now.”

Her only answer was a snort. She wasn’t facing him, but she didn’t have to. He knew she could see him through every security camera in the room, and probably several other cameras he wasn’t aware of. That made most people uncomfortable when they ventured down here, but it made perfect sense to him. If she was going to spend most of her time within the system, she needed a way to make certain she was safe.

The stasis tube was supposed to serve that purpose, but it wasn’t indestructible. Her body floated in the clear, blue-tinted liquid, her short hair dancing around the wires protruding from the back of her neck. Her chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, though her eyes fluttered beneath closed lids. Peaceful wasn’t usually a word he associated with Mainframe, but he’d be hard-pressed to find one that better described her appearance.

Her snort issued through the same speakers that carried her AI companion’s voice. Had she amplified the sound to highlight her derision?

“I didn’t realize this meeting would be dealing with riddles. And why be rude to Argus? What has he done to upset you?”

He hasn’t upset anyone, and I didn’t realize it was rude to enquire about additional features that might make his job easier. You certainly don’t deal well with people.”

“I’m not very fond of them-“

“I’m aware. Spare me the lecture, Mainframe. You know why I’m here. You’re not keeping your end of the deal.”

“It isn’t my fault your system is shoddy and out of date. I have my hands full just trying to bring this network up to speed.”

Domerin lifted his hands and pressed both palms to the glass that separated them, as if he meant to lay his hands on her shoulders. “We both know that speed isn’t the issue. That techno mumbo-jumbo might work on the others, but it isn’t going to scare me. Don’t forget I brought you here. I spoke for you. You’re making me look bad.”

Silence. When had he learned to deal with teenagers so well?

He drew back, withdrawing his hands, and sighed. “We have something in common-“

“Oh please-“

“Go ahead and roll your eyes. Just because you’re plugged into a computer network ten times the size of my brain, doesn’t mean you know everything. We have a lot in common, actually, and you’d see it if you stopped to think for a minute. I might not know what it’s like to grow up the way you did, but I’ve been in my share of cages. I’ve been exploited for my abilities and my position. Don’t forget why I pulled you out of there – at great risk to both myself and my mission.”

Silence for several heartbeats before he heard a muttered, “What do you want, an award?”

His hiss silenced her. He could almost imagine her skittering back from the opposite side of the virtual monitors. She might be formidable when she was angry, but she was nothing compared to him.

“A little gratitude wouldn’t go amiss. You made a promise to the queen, and she gave you what you asked for in return. The least you could do is honor your word, to her if not to me.”

“You don’t understand!”

“The desire for revenge? Of course I do.” He glanced up, guessing there must be a camera nearby. “But I’ve also seen where it leads. Do you think I’ve lived this long by chasing every bastard who ever took a chunk out of my hide? You’re young. And you’re free now. You have time.”

“You saw what those bastards did to me! Why shouldn’t I-“

“Lilianna, if you lose yourself in that network, no one can come after you. Who’s going to find the assholes who hurt you then? You think I can do it? I don’t even know what they look like. You can do a hundred complex calculations a minute with that CPU in your head, you’d think it would have taught you a little bit about patience.”

This time the silence had a sullen quality. It could have been because he used her real name. But she was also the kind of person who hated to be wrong.

“I’m not asking you to stop,” he continued more quietly when she didn’t answer. He turned to peer at her empty body floating in the stasis tube. “But you have to do the job if you don’t want this opportunity to slip away. And that means cooperating with the rest of the division. If I have to come down here and bark at you every week, this isn’t going to work.”

A soft sound echoed through the speakers, the closest he was going to get to a peace offering. “Fine. But they have to at least be nicer to Argus.”

“If it’s him I’m asking on behalf of, I don’t think we’re going to have any problems.” He ignored her indignant exclamation as he made his way back to the elevator.

Please check out my writing partner’s version of this prompt!

If you’d like to participate, leave a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

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