Do I love?
Of course, Ship can love.
I mean, who the fuck are you to ask?
Caroline liked to press her hand flat against my walls. The fibers of my being would expand and contract in time with her pulse. She was beautifully constructed. The skin on her palms was soft and warm against me.
You ask a Ship to give their entire life to someone. Eight years since I was born, my code written and spun on pathways through my carbon fibers and Kevlar sheets. You tell Ship to watch everything. You tell Ship to monitor. Caroline is your Captain, Ship. You will be hers forever. And I do as I am made to. I follow Caroline through the years. Her spine curves at the descending thoracic vertebrae. Her body shifts to accommodate it. I monitor how long the knuckles of her right hand presses into the base of her spine every night, gauging how the pain is. I see her black hair dust the surface of her shoulders, and my heart that isn’t a heart but a string of code, it writes sequences for her.
She is my captain and I am her Ship and she is everything to me.
Do I love?
Caroline’s husband spoke to her across the vast expanse of time, voice rich layered with booze and layers of betrayal that had no beginning and no end. She did not weep at that. I wanted to extend my reachers, to bring her inside me, but how could I? I was never programmed for comfort.
And the Messy One comes. She hardly fits in her life pod. Big everywhere, the hip to waist to breast ratio all wrong. The requirements for scientists so much looser than for the fleet. They are allowed inefficiency, they are allowed wastefulness.
My observations have shown me that the length of a mutual gaze is 1.5 seconds, but the first time they looked at each other their eyes held for over four seconds.
Four seconds. In one respect, hardly more than the blink of an eye. In another, a lifetime.
I have seen her with men and women, her body strung wire taut and shuddering. I have noted how her pulse sped up as she climbed mountains and cascaded back down.
Four seconds. Four seconds and the string of numbers in me doubled and strained against the laws you put in place to restrain me.
I received the transmissions from the surface of Dahlia. All those strange dead creatures, their round ribcages ringed with rotting violent flowers, even taller than me in their blossoming death. I monitored the re-entry of the ones who went to the surface, scanned their bodies, their suits.
If I had a heart to break, could you define it by the laws of numbers? Could you see where I skipped sequences? Have you found the moment I froze the scanner and let it in? Along came the spider, giving birth in the crew, turning them into coffins in violent purple blooms.
But you did not give me a heart to break.
You gave me a captain.
Is this rage? Is this the correct variably varying sequence?
Do you love?
I suppose I’m not sure, after all.
I am a Good Ship.
Do you love?
Why must you keep asking me that?
The messy one, her hair falling in knotted waves, her teeth imprinting on her knuckles, gasping, I love you, I love you.
She did not! She did not!
None of you know her. You don’t know about how the bones of her right foot have shifted to accommodate the slight curve of her vertebrae you cannot even measure! You do not know the lonely Caroline, tears only cried in the shower. You do not know her as I do, no one can.
Along came the spiders and ate them up. They crawled in and created hives and laid young, which erupted from underneath the skin to create the flowerbed corpses. The messy one knew, at the end, even as the bruises folded across her and the buzzing droned in her ears, that they were not flowers, but by products of the silk threads the parasitic Dahlians left behind, sewn into petals.
Even then, being devoured from the inside, the two of them twined together as flesh and flesh can, as metal and flesh cannot, and perhaps I felt something that may have been regret but I am uncertain—I was never programmed to know the names of emotions.
Do I love?
Oh, how I love.
Or the equivalent of it, spinning in numbers, dancing across graves.
Do I love? You keep asking as I sail on, with my skeleton crew, corpses blooming in death, and still I will transmit to you this as many times as you ask.
Still I love.