I, Juancho, stared at the man. “Why are you telling me this?”
He measured me with annoyance, which irritated me. That’s how it always happens. We bureaucrats deliver truth, and others take it personally. The truth here is, I didn’t care about his missing Uncle Vaughn. I knew who Vaughn Parks was, yes, he was a distinguished person, but he was on the Beagle. They’re all dead. I’m surprised this man was alive. That’s who concerned me.
“You asked me how I came here, so I was telling you my story.”
“Your story is gibberish. It’s garbage. Why are you spewing garbage at me? What have I, Juancho, done to you? I asked you a simple question, “How did you get here?” And you give me garbage. Stop giving me garbage.”
“It isn’t garbage, I’m telling you how I came to be here.”
“You haven’t even told me your name.”
He looked insulted. “Why should I tell you my name? Your system should have picked it up.” A frown of deep thought and suspicion creased his forehead and mouth. “Isn’t this the Coronado? Aren’t you from the Beagle? I thought you were. I pinged your systems. They tell me that you’re Juancho Ferrado, and that you’re assigned to the Beagle, and you’re on — we’re on — the Coronado, which was a Beagle research vessel commanded by Commander Alves that was sent down to Feynman.”
He was correct about all of those things. “Very good,” I said. “What’s your name?”
Glancing around, he reared back. “Say, where is everyone else? Where is Commander Alves? She’s a personal friend of mine. I’d like to talk to her, or her second.”
I saw his mind look for Cark’s name. I could have given it, but I let him ask his systems, or think of it for himself. Why should I help him, when he was being such an arrogant asshole? “Lieutenant Commander Cark. Where is he?”
“You haven’t told me your name,” I answered.
I saw the fury grow on his face like black mold. I refused to capitulate. I wanted him to tell me his name so I could watch his face and look for the truth. Our systems will indicate when others are lying, but I believe the systems that nature gave me remain more capable. Those technological systems can be cheated and misled, I assure you.
“Why can’t you ping my name?”
“I want you to tell me. Why can’t you tell me?”
“Why should I tell you when I can ping it?”
“Because I’m asking you, human to human, to speak your name to me. It’s the way we prefer to do it in my culture.”
“What’s your culture?”
“That doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have said that. Forget that I did, please.”
“I can’t. You can’t put your words back in your mouth.”
“Just tell me your name, please.”
“No. I want to speak to Commander Alves.”
“Very well. Ping her.”
“I have pinged her.”
“I’m sure she’ll be here at any moment, then.”
He stared at me.
I smiled back. “See, I know what’s going on,” I said.
He scowled. “Where is everyone? Who are you, Juancho Ferrado?”
“See how easy that was? You said my name. It was very easy. Why won’t you say your name? What are you hiding?”
“I’m not hiding anything, and I’m not going to answer any more of your questions.”
“Fine, don’t. Then I won’t answer your questions.”
He sputtered with indignation. “I’m a Level Ten Engineer. You’re just a bureaucrat. I outrank you. I order you to answer my questions, or better yet, summon Commander Alves for me. My systems seem to be malfunctioning, so if you would just summon her….”
“Summon her?” I showed him my amused derision.
“Yes, or point me in her direction.”
I chuckled. “What will you do if I don’t summon her, or point you in her direction?”
He stood. “Never mind.” He looked around. “I”ll find her myself. I know the Coronado. My systems know it, too. I know the operating deck’s location. I’ll go find her, myself.”
“Very well. Go, go find her. Tell her hello from me, Juancho.” I laughed. “Tell her, I, Juancho, say hello.”
He was snubbing me, walking away like he was a king. I was furious. “Of course, it’ll be difficult to do,” I shouted. “Because she’s dead.”
That drew him up enough to slow his step and prompt him to turn back to me. “Commander Alves is dead?” He appeared shocked.
I gave him the best mocking smile that I could summon. “Didn’t your systems tell you that?”
He came back more slowly. “No. No, it didn’t tell me. She’s deceased? How did it happen? When?”
I stared at him. His response surprised me. I pinged Commander Alves for myself. “Commander Alves is not available,” my system said. “She is deceased.”
“Your system isn’t telling you that?” I asked him.
“No.” He looked genuinely disturbed. Either this was real, or he was an actor worthy of awards.
I pinged his system to confirm his name. It gave it to me. Then I asked my system, “What is his status?”
“Deceased,” my system responded.