Vaughn

To recap. The Beagle is a colonizing starship that arrived at a new world, Feynman. Juancho Ferrado is a bureaucrat who lives and works on the Beagle who was selected as part of the Coronado landing party. Shortly after the Coronado’s successful descent to the surface of Feynman, the Beagle inexplicably exploded. All personnel onboard were assumed to be killed. That left the Coronado’s crew as the only survivors. Four years later, only Juancho remains when Roger Lancey startles Juancho with his sudden appearance on the Coronado.

Then Lancey disappeared. 

Now, the tale continues. Don’t worry, it’s certified completely organic and vegan, GMO-free, non-fat, and with no added sugar.

###

“Hi, Vaughn.”

Opening his eyes wide, Vaughn Parks looked around Captain Mayhew’s office. Vaughn had once been a heartbreaker, a man with a slender, athletic build that prompted thoughts of grace, and green eyes that glistened like wet emerald jewels. Pronouncing, “I’ve seen enough of life, and now I want to experience death,” he’d chosen to age and die once they’d reached Feynman. “Captain.”

“How do you feel?”

“I feel like I was dead, and now I’m apparently alive again. I feel like warmed-over leftovers, something you may not know, Captain.”

Captain Mayhew chuckled. “I’m older than I look.”

“Probably.”

“I know what leftovers are. I like leftovers.” Captain Mayhew smiled at private memories.

Vaughn saw that and changed vectors. “Virtual stimulation via artificial intelligence?”

“What?”

“I’ve been brought back by virtual simulation via artificial intelligence?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“We need your opinion.”

“On?”

“I’m about to impart that.”

“Sorry. I seem to think very fast.” Vaughn gazed up at the ceiling. “It’ really interesting, like I’m experiencing time on a different level.”

“Perhaps you can follow up on that when we’re done here.”

“Oh.” Vauhn swiveled his look to the Captain and grinned. “Yes, you brought me here for a reason, didn’t you? What sort of emergency has invoked the virtual regeneration? This is the first time I’ve been back, right?” Face crinkling with humor, Vaughn continued, “Never mind, I’m catching up with my records. Unless you’ve manipulated my records, this is my first time back since I died, just two years ago.”

His expression changed. “Just two years? We’ve been on Feynman for two and a half years, and now there’s a problem that you think I can help you with?”

“Correct.”

“Well, fill me in, then.”

“It’s Juancho.”

“Juancho.” Recognition flushed Vaughn’s green eyes. “The ship’s artificial intelligence?”

“Yes. You should have access to Juancho’s logs.”

Looking inward, and mildly squinting, Vaughn said, “I do.”

“Go ahead and read them.”

“I have.”

“Already?”

“They’re digital, I’m digital…there’s a certain digital sympatico taking place.”

“Oh.” Captain Mayhew looked interested. “That’s fascinating.”

“But something to pursue after this.”

“Yes, if you’re interested, and willing to stick around.”

“Well, we’ll see. So I’ve read the document….”

“Yes, you’ve read the document.”

“What do you think?”

“Of it? I don’t understand that question.”

“Well, Juancho appears to be fantasizing about the Beagle exploding, and essentially, being the last human on Feynman and living on the Coronado.”

“Yes.”

“Is there reason for us to be concerned?”

“Why?”

“Well, it’s A.I. Do you think Juancho will act on it?”

“Oh his fantasy?”

“Exactly.”

Leaning back, Vaughn crossed his legs and stroked his mustache. “I don’t know.”

Mayhew exhaled. “That’s not thrilling to hear.”

“Sorry.”

She stared at Vaughn. “This doesn’t concern me?”

“I’m still thinking about it.”

“What about the part where he pretends one of the crew members is looking for you, and doesn’t know where you went.”

“I thought that was interesting.” Vaughn grinned. “I wanted to know where I went.”

“Does any of this worry you, though?”

Slicking down half of his mustache with one finger, Vaughn uncrossed his legs, and replied, “No. It’s just simple fantasy. My take is that Juancho is a powerful A.I. system. He brought the Beagle across the galaxy to Feynman. That required tremendous resources. Now, I suspect, he’s bored.”

“Bored.”

“Yes.”

“That’s what some of the engineers suggested.”

“They’re probably right, I think. Let me ask you this.” Straightening his frame, Vaughn said, “Have you asked Juancho about it?”

“We tried to. We’ve sent people in, but he plays games with them. He will only permit certain people in, in the first place. For example, he wouldn’t talk to me.”

“Yes, yes, I read that. He said you were disturbing his muse.”

“Yes, exactly. That’s why we’re worried.”

“But, other than this fantasy, he’s functioning normally, and nothing has gone wrong.”

“Yes, but we’re worried. You can see why.”

“Sure, sure, I can.” Rubbing two stubby fingers together and looking at them, Vaughn inhaled.  “What do you want me to do? Want me to talk to him?”

“Do you think that’ll help?”

Vaughn shrugged. “I don’t think it’ll hurt. Hang on a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Mayhew’s brown eyes widened. “You’re going to do it now?”

“Why not? You have a reason why I shouldn’t? I’m here, he’s there…let’s get it on.”

“Okay. Great. Do it, then.”

“Okay.” Eyes becoming lost in a nest of wrinkles, Vaughn smiled, flashing straight, white teeth. “I’ll be right back.”

Coming tomorrow: the conclusion.

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