Aided by his Artificial Sentience hanging by a chain around his neck, Guanamarioch interspersed his religious and tactical studies with studies of the target area. This was a place at the northern tip of the one of the lesser continents of the threshworld, very near where a narrow isthmus joined it to the second continent of that world. The maps showed it as being called, in all of the significant thresh tongues, "Colombia."
The young God King referred back to the Scroll of Flight and Resettlement as he perused the holographic map of the new home.
"Hmmm . . . let's see. The scroll instructs the new settler to match the mass of thresh available in the area against the time available to get in crops before the available thresh runs out."
"This is correct, lord, but it will hardly be a problem," The Artificial Sentience answered. "The area the clan has claimed—and which we should be able to hold for some cycles—contains nearly three million of the sentient thresh, plus many times that in nonsentients. There is also much nonanimal thresh there and the area gets much illumination from its sun, much rain from the prevailing winds. Growing seasons are short. The clan will not hunger for so long as we can hold the area of settlement."
"For so long . . ." the God King echoed. When, since the fall, have we ever been able to hold on to an area long enough to grow powerful? Soon enough the others will be pushing us to lesser grounds, Soon enough we will be back in space, looking for a new home. I have seen over a thousand lifetimes' of records and in all that time it has been so for those as weak as we are now.
The Artificial Sentience had been with Guanamarioch since shortly after the God King had first emerged from the breeding pens. It knew its master well and understood the meaning behind the Kessentai's last spoken words.
"Yes, best to consider the escape routes, too, young master," advised the Artificial Sentience.
"There is this area, the one the locals call 'the Darien,' we might use," offered the God King. "What do we know about it?"
"Remarkably little, lord. The information the Elves have put on the Net offers only the outlines. Perhaps the local thresh are not too familiar with the area, themselves."
"Imagine that," said Guanamarioch. "Imagine having so much space, so low a population, that there can be an area of one's own world that one can afford not to know and to settle."
The Artificial Sentience was personally indifferent to space, as it was to population pressure. Thus, the possible emptiness of this "Darien" place meant little. It did occur to it, however, that there might be other reasons for the emptiness than low population.
"Perhaps, lord, this 'Darien' is simply undesirable."
Vanity, thy name is woman.
McNair's jaw dropped.
"What do you mean my discretionary funds are gone? All of them? That's impossible."
"Every penny," Chief Davis answered, cringing inwardly at the expected explosion.
"And what's more, Skipper," the ship's supply officer, or "pork chop," piped in, "this morning I received a phone call, a really interesting one. It seems we are about to receive several hundred yards of very expensive yellow silk."
"Silk? What do we need with any silk, let alone several hundred yards' worth?"
Neither the "pork chop" nor Davis answered. Instead, they just whistled nonchalantly while looking around at each of the walls in the captain's office.
"DDDAAAIIISSSYYY!" McNair shouted. Instantly, the ship's holographic avatar appeared by his desk, her head hanging, shamefaced.
"I wanted a new dress," she said, simply, holographic mouth forming a pretty pout.
"You're a ship," McNair pointed out, reasonably. "You can't wear a dress."
"It's for an awning for the rear deck. And for over the brows. That's as close to a dress as I can wear. Oh, Captain, please don't sent it back," she pleaded, clasping holographic hands with long red nails. "It will be sooo pretty."
The ship didn't mention, And I wanted to be pretty for you.
"Okay, Daisy, I understand that," though, for a fact, McNair didn't really understand that at all. "But I need that money. I'm responsible for it."
"Oh . . . but Captain, you and the crew have lots of money," Daisy answered, innocently. "See?"
Daisy projected another hologram, this time of a bank's ledger sheet, over the captain's desk. He took one look at the amount at the bottom of the ledger and his eyes bugged out.
"Where did that come from?" he asked in shocked suspicion.
Daisy twisted her head back and forth, then shrugged, before answering, "We made it. Ummm . . . I made it. You know? From 'investments.' "
McNair raised a skeptical eyebrow. "What investments?"
"Futures," Daisy answered slowly and indefinitely. "Ummm . . . some little things I bought on margin. Some stocks in defense firms . . . here . . . none in the Federation. Some consulting fees from some firms on Wall Street and in China. A few patents I took out and sold the rights to . . ."
"Ummm . . . well . . . Japan doesn't recognize anyone else's patents or copyrights . . . sooo . . . I sold them some rights to some GalTech that had never been registered there with their patent office. Little things. Nothing important. Antigravity. Nanotechnology."
" 'Little things,' " McNair echoed, placing his head in his hands. "Little things . . . nanotechnology . . . antigravity."
He lifted his head abruptly and demanded, "And where did your starter money come from?"
Daisy's head hung lower. She shrugged and answered, defensively, "Your discretionary funds. I was going to put it back. Soon."
"Put it back now," McNair ordered and was, somehow, unsurprised to see the amount at the bottom of the ledger drop. He noted that it didn't drop much.
"All of it."
"Captain, that was all of it. I told you. You and the crew have lots of money. I wanted you all to have nice things, the best food . . . and I wanted a new dress."
McNair hung his head. It wouldn't do any good to explain when the inevitable investigation showed up that his ship had wanted a "new dress."
A ship's captain is responsible . . .
"Pork Chop, tell the chaplain, the Jag and the IG that I need to see them," he ordered. Then he thought about that and countermanded, "Belay that. Just tell the chaplain I'll be over to see him in a few. Dismissed."
Except for the crucifix on the walls, and a few other odds and ends, the chaplain's office aboard Des Moines was pure Navy. This extended even to the standard Navy steel gray desk.
"I see by your face you have a terrible burden, Captain, laddie," observed a mildly ruddy-faced Chaplain Dwyer from behind that desk.
"I need a drink," McNair announced.
Without a word the chaplain stood up and went to a storage alcove built into his office. McNair's eyes followed, and then wandered over the signs adorning the cabinet doors in the alcove. He read:
Continuing to peruse the signs, he read further:
Sacramental Grappa, Cognac and Armagnac
"What, no sacramental rum?"
Seriously, Dwyer answered, "The ship's physician is holding that for me, Captain, laddie. It's 'medicinal rum' for now but will become holy as soon as I make some room for it and bless it. And which sacrament would you prefer?"
"Northern rite," McNair answered, dully. It was one of those days.
"Scotch, it is!" said Father Dwyer, SJ, opening a cabinet and reaching for an amber bottle.
Dwyer was, drinking habits aside, quite a good chaplain, quite a good listener. So he waited, while the captain sipped his scotch, for the other man to begin. Unfortunately for the technique, McNair said not a word.
Assuming the captain needed a touch more "holiness" to loosen his tongue, Dwyer reached again for the bottle.
Understanding, McNair covered his glass with his hand. "No, that's not it, Dan."
McNair looked up. "Daisy?" he asked.
Instantly, and still looking contrite, Daisy's avatar appeared.
"Daisy, is it possible for you to shut this room off from your hearing?"
She answered immediately, "I'd be lying if I said I could. I mean I could compartmentalize, sort of pretend that I could shut it off, make it hard for me to look at or think about what you say . . . but I'd still hear everything you say and I'd still have a record."
McNair nodded. "Thought so. Okay, Daisy. Not your fault. Chaplain, let's take a walk. I know a pretty good bar, if it's still there, about half a mile from here. Bring the bottle; the owner won't mind. And he won't have anything nearly as good in stock."
But for the bartender, the Broadway was empty. Well, it was early in the day, after all.
Laying a twenty dollar bill on the bar, McNair said, "Solo necesitamos hielo, Leo." We just need ice.
"I speak perfectly good English," the gray-haired, Antillean descended bartender answered, very properly. "Maybe better than you. But I'll bring you your ice anyway."
Taking the ice while the chaplain ported the bottle of scotch, the two sat down at a table under a slowly circulating ceiling fan.
"I came here the first time as an able bodied seaman in the '40s," McNair announced. "It was an Army hangout then. I suppose it is again now, too."
Dwyer looked around. He thought maybe the place had seen better times. Then again, the entire city of Colon always seemed like it had seen better times and yet never seemed to get any worse.
McNair thought that another test was in order. Loudly he called out, "Daisy, can you hear me?"
Still nothing, except that the bartender, Leo, looked at him strangely.
"Safe enough, then, I guess," McNair said.
"I'm not even going to begin to think about what it does to the sanctity of my confessional that the ship can hear every word spoken," sighed the priest.
"But she's just a machine, right, Father?" the captain asked.
"That's what I tried to tell myself," answered the priest, clasping hands and looking down at the unclothed table. "But I had my doubts. As a matter of fact . . ."
"Yes?" McNair pressed.
"Well . . . I don't know how to say this, but . . . whatever she is or isn't, she's a Roman Catholic now."
Eyes gaping, the captain exclaimed, "Huh?"
"Oh, yes," the priest answered, pouring himself another drink. "Came to me and asked to be baptized. The chief of chaplains told me 'not just no, but hell no.' So I went over his head to the head of my order. He said . . . well, it isn't fit for Christian ears, what he said. So I went to the holy father; we go way back, we do. Back to when he was the head of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Wise man; he was always wise beyond his years. And, unlike me, a truly holy man.
"Anyway, the pope asked me a few questions, told me to search my soul and to search for one in Daisy. And then, wise and holy man that he is, he told me to trust myself and do what I thought was right.
"So, yes," Dwyer concluded, "Daisy is a member in good standing of the True Faith."
"Whew! So she's human after all. That takes a load off my conscience."
"I didn't say she was human, Captain. I decided she had a soul and, though I don't think she was in need of salvation, her soul having no portion in original sin, I could hardly refuse her the sacraments of our mutual God."
The priest raised his glass and swirled its contents. "Except for the scotch, of course; that's completely wasted on her. Poor thing."
"Well, that doesn't really help me," McNair muttered, looking extremely confused and inexpressibly sad, neither of those being expressions he would ever have permitted himself aboard ship.
Dwyer looked hard at his ship's captain. "Oh, dear. Tell me it isn't so."
McNair sighed. "It's so."
"You know anyone else on the ship with a beautiful face, big blue eyes and a thirty-eight inch, D cup chest? That gravity doesn't affect in the slightest?"
"Oh, dear," the priest repeated uselessly.
Without waiting for Dwyer, McNair reached over, took the bottle, and poured himself another drink.
"When I awaken, she's there for me. When I lie down to sleep she's the last thing I see before I close my eyes. Quite a lot more often than I like to think about, she's there after I close my eyes and before I open them in the morning.
"She's always there to talk, if I need to talk. She's a great conversationalist, did you know that, Dan?"
The priest nodded that, yes, he knew.
"And she takes care of the ship . . . err, of herself, I suppose. When was the last time a ship's captain had a ship that took care of all the little things for him?"
McNair, seeing Dwyer's glass was empty, added some ice to it and poured.
The priest looked down into the glass and then, unaccountably, began to giggle. The giggle grew until it became a chortle. The chortle expanded to a laugh. The laugh took him over and shook him until he could barely sit his chair.
"Oh, I can't wait to dump this one on His Holiness' desk."
The Indowy were a fairly imperturbable race. This may have explained why they took an immediate liking to the cats Davis had brought in to clean out the ship's complement of rats. One of those cats, Morgen, purred happily under Sintarleen's stroking palm.
Being imperturbable, instead of jumping through his skin when the ship's avatar appeared beside him, Sintarleen merely bowed his head in recognition.
"Ship Daisy, may I help you?"
"Maybe," Daisy answered, after taking a seat to look the Indowy in the eye. "How familiar are you with cell regeneration and expansion from incomplete DNA samples?"
The Indowy shrugged. "You refer to what we call, 'inauspicious cloning.' I am somewhat familiar with it. Why do you ask?"
Daisy didn't answer directly. Instead, she asked, "Have you opened your mail today?"
Still stroking the cat, the Indowy replied, "Why no, Ship Daisy, I didn't even check it. I almost never get any missives. My clan is dead, you see, all but the few representatives here aboard this vessel, and about one hundred transfer neuters and females on another planet far away. So there is really no one to write."
"No, no," Daisy said, impatiently. "I mean your mail. Physical mail. Letters. Packages."
"Well, I am a little behind on my parts' accounting and storage . . ."
"Check please. There is something, some things, I have had sent to you. I would find them and bring them but . . ."
"I understand," Sintarleen said. "Will you wait here for a moment?"
When the Indowy returned he was clutching a polka-dotted halter, a pair of high heeled shoes, and a small clear plastic bag containing what appeared to be blonde hair.
"What are these things?" he asked of the ship's avatar.
"They belonged to someone, what the humans would call an 'actress.' She is possibly long dead. They are samples which should contain enough DNA, even if only traces, for you to create for me a body. It is amazing what one can find on eBay."
"Aiiiii!" the Indowy exclaimed, loudly enough to frighten off Morgen, the kitten. "What you ask is impossible, illegal. Why if the Darhel ever found out, the price they would exact from my clan is too horrible to contemplate."
"But," Daisy pointed out, reasonably, "you have just admitted that your clan only exists on this ship, for any practical purpose. Do you not think that I can defend you from anything the Darhel might have?"
"This is so," Sintarleen admitted reluctantly. "But even so, there are things I would need to . . ."
"The regeneration tank arrives next week," finished Daisy, with an indecipherable smile. "It's amazing what you can . . ."
". . . find on eBay," the Indowy finished.
The sun was just beginning to peek over Colon's low skyline, its rays lighting up Lemon Bay, the Bahia de Limon, in iridescent streaks. The USS Des Moines glowed magnificently in the early morning light.
Davis stood with the supply officer on the Cristobal pier to which CA-134 was docked, the two of them receipting for supplies.
"Got to admit it; that yellow awning does look nice."
"I don't mind the awning, Chief," said the Chop. "I'll even admit, reluctantly, that it's kinda pretty. But those goddamned paisley coverings over the brows are just too fucking much."
The chief shrugged. "Take the good with the bad," he said.
"Speaking of good with bad, what the hell is this?" asked the Chop, pointing at a large box in Galactic packaging, resting on the dock.
"Dunno, sir. I can't even read the writing."
The chief bent down to look for a shipping label. He found something that might have been one, but the writing on this, too, was indecipherable.
"Best have Sinbad look this over."
Davis pulled a small radio from his pocket. As he was about to press the talk button, he spotted the Indowy walking his way with a half dozen of his clanspeople in tow.
"Sinbad, can you make this out?' asked the chief, pointing at what was probably a shipping label.
"I can," answered the Indowy, looking down as usual, "but it really isn't necessary. It's for me."
"Oh. Well, what is it, Mister Sintarleen?"
"It is hard to explain," which was the truth. "It is for . . . manufacturing parts . . . and . . . ummm . . . assemblies. Yes, that's it: assemblies," which was also the truth, if not the whole of it.
"Very well, Sinbad," agreed the Chop, holding forth a clipboard and pen. "If you will sign here for it."
"I can't see anything," said Daisy. "I can't sense anything. Are you sure it's working?"
Sintarleen gave an Indowy sigh. "Lady Daisy, you can't sense or see anything because right now the tank is manipulating and selecting the scraps of DNA we gave it. When it has enough to make a full cell then the process will begin."
"And it will make me a body? A real, human, body?"
"It will, if it works, if we have provided enough material. But I must warn you again, Lady Daisy, that it will have no mind. There are protocols built in to the machine, protocols I can do nothing about, that forbid the creation of colloidal sentiences by artificial means.
"Instead of a brain it will have something very like your physical self. Simpler of course. Not really able to think on its own. All of its intelligence must come from you."
"That will be just fine," Daisy agreed.
"There is one further thing," the Indowy insisted. "You will be connected with this . . . body . . . as soon as it starts to grow from a single cell. It will be under accelerated growth, but that growth will be irregular. Moreover, it will be, biologically, a human female body. Even in the tank it will be affected by human physiological processes. Those processes will affect you, Lady Daisy."
One thing you can say for having an AID run your galley, thought Chief Davis, you can be certain that the food is going to be first rate.
It wasn't that Daisy Mae physically made the omelets, or boiled the lobster, or flipped the steak. There were cooks and mess boys for that.
Instead, Daisy bought the very best ingredients out of her slush fund and—while she did not routinely show herself in the galley itself—would appear there suddenly and without warning, cursing like a cavalry trooper over the shamefaced cook if a filet mignon approached half a degree past medium rare when medium rare had been ordered.
And the coffee was always perfect. She ordered it fresh roasted from a little coffee plantation in the Chiriqui highlands, one of Digna's family holdings as a matter of fact. Then Daisy insisted that the big brewers be scrubbed to perfection, the water poured in at the perfect temperature, and the brewing stopped at precisely the right moment.
It probably didn't hurt that she was paying the cooks a small bonus under the table. Then again, good cooks took pride in their work. Having the best materials to work with, to produce a better meal, only fed that pride.
Actually, the coffee puzzled the chief. It was on the rationed list. And high end, gourmet coffee was on the serious rationed list. But there was always plenty of it and it was always perfect.
The chief took his cup, placed it under the spigot and poured, half quivering with aesthetic joy as the rich aroma arose around him. Yum!
Davis took his accustomed place at his customary table to a chorus of, "Mornin', Chief . . ." "Hiya Chief . . ." "Good eats, Chief . . ." Nose stuck in that good, good cup of under-the-table coffee, Davis acknowledged the salutations with an informal wave of his hand.
Without having to be told, one of the mess boys set a plate before Davis, the plate piled high with fried potatoes, a thick ham steak, and eggs over easy.
Before the chief could dig in Daisy materialized in the seat opposite his. She may have rarely appeared in the galley, unless something was about to go wrong, but she made a point of making the rounds of the messes.
"How's breakfast, Chief Davis?' she inquired.
"First rate, as always, Daisy Mae. How's our ship?"
Daisy felt a little tingle, somewhere in her crystalline mind. Our ship. After subjective millennia of utter loneliness it meant more than she could say to belong, and not to be alone. This was true of both parts of her. That part which was the original CA-134 had spent a miserable couple of decades uncared for, unwanted and unloved as well.
"I'm fine," Daisy answered. "Well, mostly I am. But I think a couple of the ball bearings in number two turret need replacing. I was testing it last night and heard a squeak that really ought not to be."
"Get someone on it right after breakfast," said the chief around half a mouthful of eggs.
"And the deck between the PBMRs could use some cleaning," she added innocently.
Sintarleen checked the progress of the growing form in the tank. If I am reading this rightly, everything is perfect for this stage of development.
Still, I don't like the temperature fluctuations. And the hormonal surges are sometimes out of control. How do these people, the female ones anyway, maintain their sanity under these circumstances?
As any human father could have told the Indowy, if asked, "the female ones, anyway," typically did not. Nor did any males forced into close company with a thirteen-year-old girl.
A happy mess made for a happy ship, believed Davis. Thus, he didn't immediately understand the problem, the sour faces and grim expressions that met him in the chief's mess.
He shrugged and went to pour himself a cup of coffee. He could check into it later. He might even learn something about the problem at breakfast.
He poured himself a cup of coffee, added cream and sugar and took a healthy sip.
And immediately spat it out again. "Gah! That's awful. What the fu—"
He stopped as his eyes came to rest on the calendar posted over the pot. Four dates were circled on that calendar.
Davis went to the sink and poured out the coffee without regret. Then he got on the ship's intercom and announced, "Swarinski, I was looking over the Nuke deck earlier this morning. It's filthy. Take a crew and get on it. Now."
The answer came back, "Chief Davis, I'm standing here, looking at it. The deck's spotless."