This is the original flash fiction version of the story.
Distant Dreams I
Alease woke to the screaming of the collision alarms. Her sensors showed a large piece of rock less than two light-minutes away on a collision course with an ETA of about fifty minutes.
She silenced the alarms so Eric wouldn’t be disturbed and started a slow turn to dodge the rock. No need for rapid evasive action, just a couple of slow gentle turns to get out of the way and return to her course.
Even after more than six years, Alease still felt surprise at the lack of physical and emotional response to crises due to her lack of adrenalin. She never got excited.
When the danger passed, Alease drifted off to sleep.
The shrill whistle of the life support system alarms later awakened Alease. Her diagnostic systems only took an instant to find the air leak around the forward port airlock, probably caused by a gasket torn by fingernails. Since she and Eric wouldn’t need the airlock until they reached Abirutu Phi, still thirty years ahead of them, she simply used the automatic sealant injectors to close the tiny leak.
She stayed awake long enough to make sure the sealant did its job, then went back to sleep.
Alease woke to find a message from mission control. With the flight less than twenty years into its forty-five year mission, mission control still seemed interested in how she was doing.
Alease took several minutes to answer their specific questions about her systems, and then included a brief narrative about how well she and Eric were doing and how well they got along.
She smiled at her message and sent it on its journey to Earth and went back to sleep.
In her dreams, she wondered about the message from mission control. They’d asked about her and how the systems functioned, but they didn’t ask about Eric. Perhaps they knew he’d be in his sleep cycle.
Alease dreamt of Eric and how, against all the mission protocols, she fell in love with him. She remembered the jealousy she felt when Eric talked to the women at mission control during their training. Alease knew, for the next forty-five years, Eric would almost always be asleep, but they’d be together when they reached Abirutu Phi, just the two of them.
Far too often, her dreams were of monsters with green eyes, and of death and murder and violence.
Screaming collision alarms again woke Alease. When she checked her sensors, she saw a ship approached her.
She checked the mission clock and noted only thirty years had passed since she and Eric had left Earth. All the alarms and minor emergencies she’d coped with over the passing years had blended into the background noise and no longer held any importance.
As the ship neared, sensors made out the familiar emblem of the United Nations on the side. Alease felt puzzled for a moment, but then realized there must have been breakthroughs in the past twenty-eight years. Some of those breakthroughs must have included faster than light travel.
A voice Alease recognized from conversations long past crackled through the receiver and said, “Alease, this is Stasia Franks. Shut down your engines and we’ll bring you aboard.”
Alease smiled to herself and replied, “Hello, Dr. Franks. It’s good to talk to you again.” Just as the tractor beam from the larger vessel pulled the ship in, she shut down the drives and waited.
Dr. Franks and her psychiatry intern had an array of wires, tubes, and an emaciated human female body on the tables in the lab.
Stasia frowned. “This is what we worked with thirty years ago. A hybrid of a human brain and a high-speed computer, but there were some problems.”
Karl nodded. “Alease wasn’t the first such hybrid to become psychotic, was she?”
“No, she wasn’t the first to have a break, but we thought the problem was solved. She is, however, the only one to have killed someone and not been deactivated. We have a rare chance now to study her and find out what went wrong.” Stasia flicked a switch on the console.
Alease spoke from the mass of wires. “Dr. Franks, where am I?”
“You’re in the laboratory, and everything is fine.” She hesitated. “Alease, do you remember when we talked about what happened to Eric?”
Alease remembered the rage she felt when Eric flirted with the girl at mission control on the communications set. How she opened the forward port airlock and calmly watched as Eric was blown into space, clawing at the door.
Alease tried to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come.