(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
Grove Jones squares his shoulders inside his spacesuit and tries to calm his racing pulse. He had worked in hazardous environments before but never walked in space. He stares at his hands in the suit gloves. How is he supposed to operate with these on? Daniel is still giving Cressida a rundown on protocol should anything go wrong and Grove tries flexing his fingers to judge dexterity. Not good. He sighs and then notices an extra gloved hand appear by his. It is followed by the rest of Cme, camouflaged to blend in with his suit.
The Xenograft leans in close to Grove and whispers through his still open visor. 'Ship name-called you. Ship likes you.'
'At port. She feels your mind when you pat her.'
'At Sayonara spaceport. You talk with ship's mind name when you operate.'
'Cme, are you saying the ship can talk?'
'You heard name-call.'
'In my head... a name.'
'Ship is my home..hope for no explosion.' For a moment Grove forgets his own fear, picking up on a deep well of sadness in the Xenograft.
'It will be fine, the ship will be fine. This object, it is very small and the ship's outer hull will self-seal. I will be quick and I will make the operation painless. OK? You will still have your home.'
'If ship dies, I die.'
For the first time, Grove sees Cme for what it is. A strange hybrid of human biotechnology and animal DNA, forever enslaved on board the Saturn Anne II. Neither human nor monster, but the hybrid result of some monstrous concoction of human scientific vanity to so irrevocably tamper with a life. Grove growls an answer hoping to cover his emotional anger at the Xenograft's predicament. 'I've got this. I'll look after Annie for you.' Grove covers Cme's hand with his but it is already gone and he is left alone near the hatch, holding his own hand, talking to himself.
'You ready?' Daniel's words over the suit intercom make Grove jump.
'Better close your visa then.'
Daniel starts to open the inspection hatch as Grove slams his visor shut, hearing it lock reassuring, all the time trying not to say the word forming in his mind. Annie.
Daniel stands on the outer hull of his ship and stares out at the solar system unfolding in front of him. Nearby Grove is setting up a small operating tent over the spot where the object is located, sealing the sides so nothing can escape into space. There is no room for two inside the tent and so Daniel decides to travel as far as his tether will let him over the surface of his ship, scanning with a possum for any other tracking devices.
One of the gas planets looms large over the stern of the ship, its orbit affording a strange optical illusion, making it seem close enough to touch. Across the surface, storms of boiling violet vapour race and around it spins a belt of asteroids. A hot Jupiter? He would check what kind of planet it is with Yume later, now is not the time for sightseeing and so, reluctantly, he turns back to his inspection of the hull, trying not to notice the planet in the reflective curve of his visor.
The tent springs into shape as Grove shakes it from its bag, the coiled memory metal mesh ballooning into a geodesic shape just large enough for him and his small surgical equipment bag. It magnetises itself to the inner hull and, once Grove is sure it is secure, he crawls inside as best he can, trying not snarl up the tether, his suit and the equipment. He uses a small palm possum to locate the exact site of the tracker and selects a wide bore auto injector to administer a dose of anaesthetic. Just before he injects the outer hull, he hesitates and instead places a hand on the hull and says silently in his mind. 'Annie, you have some kind of foreign object under your skin I need to remove.'
His mind is filled with a feeling of warmth and the hull beneath his suit glove ripples slightly.
'I won't worry Grove, you have my back.'
The voice in his mind is both alarming and reassuringly familiar and then Grove realises something, did the ship just made a joke about him being on the hull?
Could a biosynthetic spaceship become sentient enough to not only communicate but crack jokes based on previous conversations? Grove lines up the auto injector and presses the plunger, he would have to run a full diagnostic of the ship on the next shift, try to find how this latent intelligence in the biosynthetic parts of the ship could suddenly manifest itself but for now, he had an operation to perform.
Grove works swiftly, slicing with a surgeons skill through the hull's skin and locating a small, circular device attached, limpet-like, on the metal substructure beneath. Without a better idea of how to remove it, Grove takes a small, flat bladed scalpel and with one deft move slices under the object, flicking it off the ship's hull. It flies up and hits the tent wall, ricocheting around until Grove traps it in a static bag. The ship's biosynthetic skin is already healing and Grove takes a moment to check it knits together completely before letting Daniel know he has the tracker.