Rhyme felt the hull breach one nanosecond before the Raison d’Être did.
Like a sea urchin’s spine piercing flesh, the breach stabbed Rhyme’s mind, snapping her to attention. The pinch, the wound—the warning—ached deep in Rhyme’s head, but the Raison must have felt it too because the ship lurched with Rhyme. The artificial had simply waited one nanosecond before warning Rhyme of the danger.
‹Hull breach in the—›
‹—I know,› interrupted Rhyme, straightening. ‹In the energy pearl chamber.›
‹Chamber depressurization imminent,› said the Raison with aplomb.
‹Raise a barrier—›
‹—Barriers are unavailable.›
‹And why in the name of the void is that?› cursed Rhyme.
‹Depressurization has severed our connection to the energy pearl.›
Rhyme sighed. ‹Of course it has.›
‹We do not have enough energy to raise a barrier.›
Rhyme groaned. ‹Of course we don’t.›
She groaned again. Not out loud, but in her mind, or more specifically in her neural implant, as well as down the neural channel she and the Raison shared. The Raison didn’t respond. After spending over one standard revolution with Rhyme, the Raison had learned to disregard Rhyme’s histrionics.
‹How long before we’re completely out of energy?› asked Rhyme, cognizant of her use of the first person plural, of her connection to the Raison, of their shared experience of physical sensations and reactions, and of the peril they both faced.
‹Five minutes and twenty-five seconds,› answered the Raison.
‹That doesn’t give us much time.›
Rhyme blinked and the bridge’s holo helm faded. A second blink and the holo helm was replaced with controls for the ship’s repair bots. Two metalite spheroidal bots, powered by their own energy pearls, deployed on Rhyme’s command. One to patch the breach and one to restore the Raison’s connection to the ship’s main energy pearl.
‹That should do it,› said Rhyme. ‹Repairs will be complete in under two minutes.›
In response, the bridge’s thick glassite windows rattled and the ship lurched a second time, throwing Rhyme forward. Her harness bit into her neck and chest, and she saw stars. Out loud she roared at the pain blossoming in her head, and in her mind she did the same, screaming. The Raison didn’t react to Rhyme’s cries. The sound of metalite scraping against metalite drowned out everything.
Yanking her harness away from her neck, Rhyme choked down a breath and leaned forward, and after several watery blinks, the holo helm rematerialized. Multiple red lights were alight and an endless stream of alarms, warnings, and data—too much data—flooded the holo helm and Rhyme’s neural implant and in turn Rhyme’s mind. Only an artificial like the Raison could make any sense of it, and yet Rhyme was well aware of what had happened. She’d experienced this before, except last time she’d been alone. This time, she had a friend. She had the Raison to help her deal with the danger.
Rhyme closed her eyes and swallowed. ‹What did we hit?›
‹Unknown,› replied the Raison. ‹Whatever it was, it was made of metalite. It disabled the port engine and hit the aft hold, creating another hull breach. Access points between both breaches and the bridge have been sealed. Unfortunately—›
‹—We’re going down,› finished Rhyme.
‹Yes, Captain.› The Raison went silent for a moment and then said, ‹Without the energy pearl, we will be unable to maintain a barrier to protect us from Eruza’s atmospheric drag during entry.›
Rhyme shook her head. ‹Will the thermal plates be enough?›
This was an incomplete thought, an incomplete question. What Rhyme had meant to ask was, Will the thermal plates be enough to protect us during reentry, or are we going to perish? But the Raison knew exactly what Rhyme had meant. The Raison could feel Rhyme’s growing trepidation.
‹Our angle is too steep,› the Raison said. ‹We are—›
‹—Not going to make it.›
‹We need our barriers.›
Rhyme gritted her teeth and suppressed the desire—the need—to swear.
This was it—this was how she was going to die, how she was going to return to the void. Burnt to a crisp. Blown to pieces. Pulverized to dust and scattered across her home planet’s exosphere.
The last words her biomother had said to her the last time Rhyme had bothered to call echoed in her mind.
“That artificial is going to get you killed.”
Rhyme had laughed at that.
“Absurd,” she’d replied.
The Raison was Rhyme’s friend, her best friend, so Rhyme had changed the subject with her biomother, refusing to continue the conversation. Slander against the Raison was slander against Rhyme because, for all intents and purposes, the Raison was Rhyme. The neural channel the pair shared often blurred the lines between who was who and what was what, but Rhyme relished it.
The presence of the Raison had once brought Rhyme back from the brink, back from the darkness. The relationship they’d forged was as real as any relationship two organics could ever share. The only thing Rhyme regretted now was that the Raison was going to die too.
‹Captain,› said the Raison, interrupting Rhyme’s private thoughts. ‹Captain.›
Rhyme sucked in another sharp breath and blinked as a crackling sensation clawed at the back of her head, making her roll her neck in an attempt to suppress it. The neural channel Rhyme and the Raison shared was flickering. Something was interfering with the connection between Rhyme’s neural implant and the Raison’s core, sending prickles of pain down Rhyme’s spine. She groaned again, but the Raison didn’t respond. The Raison must not have felt Rhyme’s discomfort.
‹Captain,› repeated the Raison.
‹What?› spat Rhyme, her mind’s voice hoarse and her tone harsher than she’d intended it to be. ‹Did you say something?›
She’d switched to the second person singular, acutely aware in that painful moment that while she and the Raison shared a neural channel almost all the time now, they were still two separate entities. Two beings—two completely different kinds of beings. Two consciousnesses with bodies and minds and deaths of their own. When push came to shove, Rhyme was still a human, born into this universe alone and about to return to the void alone. After all, there was a chance the Raison might live on after the crash. Artificials were given priority over other technology for repair. Few were ever decommissioned. They were too precious to be discarded.
‹Yes,› answered the Raison. ‹Your blood pressure is elevated. Are you in distress?›
The Raison had also switched back to the second person singular. Not because the Raison ever thought of itself as something separate from Rhyme—whatever the Raison connected to, whatever technology the Raison used, whatever chassis the Raison embodied, the Raison regarded those connections as part of itself—but because the Raison respected Rhyme’s dynamic feelings and human sense of autonomy even if, at times, it was incorrect.
‹Of course I’m in distress,› Rhyme spluttered. ‹I’m not ready for this. Are you?›
‹I am neither prepared nor unprepared for cessation.›
Rhyme smiled and said, ‹What a very Raison thing for you to say.› She sighed. ‹Well, I suppose I should look on the bright side. I get to end my life back at home. It’s just too bad I couldn’t show you Eruza’s famous suns-set.›
Before Rhyme could say more, a loud click and a whir resonated from somewhere deep within the ship and a red light stopped blinking on the holo helm.
‹Energy pearl connection has been reestablished,› said the Raison. ‹External barrier raised.›
Rhyme squinted. ‹Yes,› she said. ‹Yes, I can see that!›
An opalescent sheen only visible with augmented or synthetic sight, or by artificials—or by humans neurally connected to artificials—covered the bridge’s glassite windows, encompassing the entire ship like a carapace. The heat sensors on the holo helm quieted and darkened, and the heat that had started to lick the windows no longer burned so bright.
‹The repair bots did their job,› said Rhyme, making an adjustment to the ship’s plummeting trajectory. ‹We’re going to make it.›
‹Perhaps,› said the Raison, ‹but we still have to land safely.›
‹Preferably,› agreed Rhyme, ‹and in one piece.›
‹We can land with minimal damage,› said the Raison, ‹if you allow me to borrow your somatic nervous system.›
Rhyme’s heart skipped a beat at that statement.
‹It will not be for long,› continued the Raison. ‹I will give it back to you once I land.›
Rhyme’s heart was thudding so loudly in her ears now she didn’t hear herself speak. Didn’t hear herself consenting.
“Do it,” she said out loud before she could stop herself.
Rhyme had never allowed the Raison to take complete control of her nervous system before. Once or twice, the Raison had borrowed the use of a portion of Rhyme’s neurons, but only because Rhyme had taken a risk with the ship—she’d entered an uncharted asteroid belt—and the Raison had needed the additional processing power to avoid hitting an asteroid and becoming space dust. It was discouraged, almost taboo, for an organic to allow an artificial to use their body or mind in any way, while the other way around was completely acceptable. Which Rhyme didn’t understand. If organics wanted to work with artificials and build trust between the two species, then the sharing of their bodies and minds should work both ways. Just because organics made artificials didn’t mean they should hold it over them forever.
Breath slowing, Rhyme let go. Darkness clouded her vision and her hearing dampened.
“I will protect you,” the Raison said out loud.
When Rhyme tried to reply, she discovered she couldn’t speak or move.
She blinked once and everything went dark.
‹Check,› declared Rhyme as she moved her last station piece one space away from the Raison d’Être’s white dwarf star piece, all the while grinning.
Rhyme had spent the entire game working up to this move, and she was proud. She stretched her arms above her head, rested her hands behind her neck, and leaned back in the captain’s seat, pleased with her performance so far. This was the closest she’d ever gotten to winning a match of supernova, a strategy game similar to chess, against the Raison’s artificial intelligence.
‹Checkmate,› proclaimed the Raison.
“What?” spat Rhyme out loud, shooting up from her seat. She gaped at the endgame, unsure how the Raison had won.
Scanning the board, Rhyme tried to determine where she’d gone wrong, but she quickly gave up. She didn’t feel like working it out.
“Why do I even bother?” muttered Rhyme, rolling her eyes and sighing.
She blinked and the holo board, consisting of hundreds of three-dimensional spaces, star systems, and dozens of pieces, disappeared and was replaced by the ship’s holo helm, as well as a second holo displaying an endless scroll of information. Data sets that Rhyme and the Raison were collecting from the Maelstrom, a massive nebula that radiated red and painted the bridge in alternating colors of carmine and claret.
‹We should get back to work,› said Rhyme even though she had no desire to do so. The work Rhyme needed to do was tedious—monotonous and mindless. It was the kind of work best suited for a bot or an artificial, which was why the Raison was here. The Raison collected and collated most of the data. Rhyme simply reviewed the information, examining the errors and entering comments into a report. A thankless job Rhyme had taken because she was desperate. She’d run out of medallions when she’d reached Maelstrom Station.
Leaving Eruza, her home planet, and traveling the galaxy had been Rhyme’s greatest dream ever since she’d used her first neural implant and accessed the galactic net at the precocious age of five. But spacefaring had been more expensive than Rhyme had expected. Maelstrom Station had never been her intended final destination. It was supposed to be a stepping stone to greater places closer to the galaxy’s core.
‹Recommencing scan,› said the Raison.
The holo database restarted its infinite scroll, and Rhyme’s eyes strained to keep up with the flow of information. She closed her eyes and eased her mind into the neural channel she and the Raison shared, accessing the data with her mind instead of her eyes. This aspect of the job, this losing of herself in the data, was the sole reason Rhyme kept coming back to work. She had too many worries, too many anxious thoughts about her predicament, and the neural channel Rhyme and the Raison shared for the job effectively blotted out those worries, quelling Rhyme’s most impervious existential dread.
‹Recommencing scan,› said Rhyme.
She felt herself relaxing already. The only other things that helped her do that were spirits, which Rhyme had sworn off after waking in someone else’s pod sans raiment the morning after one particularly raucous night, and net dramas, which Rhyme watched after work.
‹Have you ever watched a net drama, Raison?› Rhyme asked absentmindedly as she scrolled through the data.
Rhyme knew she should have been concentrating, but the Raison hadn’t found anything new about the Maelstrom in at least one standard week, and Rhyme was starved for conversation. Most nights after work, Rhyme went to the station’s marketplace—alone—downed a bowl of spicy noodles, trudged back to her pod, and indulged in a five-hundred episode drama until she fell into a fitful sleep. The drama, which was about a human falling in love with a tordranoran—a humanoid coldblooded species who were largely antagonistic toward humans—had a low production value, but was mildly entertaining and thoroughly distracted Rhyme, the primary traits Rhyme looked for in a drama.
The drama occupied Rhyme’s mind during the loneliest time of each standard rotation and helped her ignore the anxious thoughts that bubbled to the surface of her mind whenever she was alone. The drama was especially immersive because instead of watching it as a holo projected against her pod’s interior lid like most stationers did, Rhyme watched the drama via her neural implant and, thus, in her mind. Images, sounds, and dialogue flooded Rhyme’s mind’s eye, drowning out all other thoughts and worries. The drama didn’t actually play out on the back of Rhyme’s eyelids, but she liked to close her eyes and focus on the drama there. Like her own private holo screening, Rhyme lost herself in the lives of fictional characters—probably not the healthiest way for Rhyme to deal with her anxiety.
‹I have access to over one billion artifacts of human culture,› said the Raison, interrupting Rhyme’s self-pitying thoughts.
Rhyme opened her eyes and blinked, refreshing the holo stream.
‹That’s a lot of human culture,› she said, leaning back in her chair.
‹I can discuss any piece of culture at length,› continued the Raison.
‹Interesting.› Rhyme nodded. ‹But have you actually watched a net drama? Really watched it? Not just added it to your database.›
‹I have no need to watch anything,› answered the Raison. ‹I can access anything you ask for at any time.›
Rhyme snorted out loud and then said in the neural channel, ‹That’s no fun.› She flicked through the data on the holo with her finger halfheartedly. ‹I can swallow spoonfuls of hibiscus sorbet without really tasting it,› she continued, ‹but if I don’t taste it, what’s the point?›
‹What does hibiscus sorbet taste like?› asked the Raison.
Rhyme closed her eyes briefly and smiled. ‹Like heaven.›
‹Heaven is unverifiable,› said the Raison, a hint of amusement in the artificial’s tone.
‹It’s a figure of speech,› replied Rhyme, still smiling. ‹It means that hibiscus sorbet tastes delicious. Humans have a hard time describing what things taste like.›
‹Why is that?› asked the Raison.
‹Well,› mused Rhyme, ‹for one thing, tasting something is a subjective experience. What one person likes, another person might loathe. But also, tastes must be experienced. You need to taste hibiscus sorbet in order to understand what it’s like.›
‹I do not eat,› declared the Raison, ‹so I cannot taste anything.›
Rhyme chuckled. ‹I suppose that’s true,› she said, ‹but you can experience other things. Like a net drama or a suns-set.›
‹I have access to—›
‹—let me guess?› interrupted Rhyme. ‹Billions of images of suns-sets?›
‹Yes,› confirmed the Raison. ‹However, I have never seen a suns-set in the flesh, so to speak.›
‹Only images on the galactic net.›
‹Because I have never been planetside.›
‹Never?› asked Rhyme, aghast.
‹I was made in space and will be decommissioned in space.›
Rhyme raised her eyebrows. ‹Well, we’ll have to rectify that, and we’ll have to rectify the fact that you’ve never watched a net drama.›
Rhyme and the Raison quieted for a time, each occupied with their respective thoughts and tasks, even though Rhyme was fairly certain the Raison could think millions of thoughts whilst conducting millions of tasks. A few minutes later, however, the Raison broke the silence. Not with a question regarding the pair’s work, but with a question related to the conversation the pair had been having. This was not something the Raison did often, so Rhyme took advantage of it as best she could.
‹What is it about net dramas that you find so interesting?› asked the Raison.
‹I suppose,› replied Rhyme, ‹I like a good story. I like interesting characters. I like being transported to another place, another time.›
‹Net dramas transport you?› asked the Raison.
‹Not literally,› said Rhyme. ‹Mentally and emotionally. Figuratively.›
The Raison thought about this for a moment and then said, ‹I access human culture in order to learn.›
‹I suppose that is what I do too.›
‹But you are human,› said the Raison. ‹You have a body. You can experience your own culture in order to learn from it at any time. You can talk to humans. You can visit the places in your net dramas.›
‹That’s true,› said Rhyme, ‹but it is not always possible. I mean, just look at me now. I’m stuck at this station. The only time I leave is when we go to work. Even if I wanted to, I have no means of leaving for good, and I assure you: I do want to leave.›
‹There are people here you can talk to though,› said the Raison.
Rhyme grimaced. ‹Talking to people isn’t that simple. People don’t always want to talk to strangers. Making friends isn’t an easy task.› Rhyme glanced at the metalite floor. ‹At least not for me it isn’t,› she muttered.
‹You talk to me,› said the Raison.
‹I do talk to you, Raison,› said Rhyme, still looking at the floor. ‹You’re easy to talk to.›
‹Do you consider me a friend?›
Rhyme’s head shot up. ‹Yes,› she said. ‹Of course I do.›
‹I consider you a friend too.›
A line of data in the holo stream blinked, and Rhyme blinked along with it, ignoring the warmth rising in her cheeks. The Raison had found something in the Maelstrom worth examining.
Rhyme flicked her eyes to the right, and the data shifted, enlarging on the other side of the holo. She jutted her chin at the holo and said, ‹Let’s get back to work.›
The Raison d’Être must have landed the ship successfully because when Rhyme regained consciousness she found herself still alive and in one piece, lying prone on the hot sand of one of Eruza’s rarefied atolls. Sand caked Rhyme’s wet hair and her whole body burned, nerves on fire. She didn’t know how much time had passed since she’d surrendered her somatic nervous system to the Raison and was, in essence, anesthetized, but it must have been a while. This side of the planet had been dark when Rhyme and the Raison had made their inadvertent descent, burning up like an asteroid in the atmosphere. Now the yellow binary dwarf suns Rhyme knew so well blazed high in the sky, nearly at their upper culmination.
Sitting up gingerly, ribs protesting, Rhyme leaned back on her hands and was immediately engulfed by Eruza’s planetwide ocean. The water was shockingly cold for the summertide season. Wave after wave submerged Rhyme to her elbows and pulled her hands down into the wet sand. It was a disconcerting sensation that felt alien to Rhyme after having lived for more than one standard revolution on a sterile space station.
Tugging her hands free one at a time, Rhyme stood, took a labored step, booted feet also engulfed in the sandy seafloor, and turned toward the ocean. The frigid, salty, never-ending ocean—the Big Blue, as it was called by the people of Eruza, which often looked like it was coalescing with the blue horizon—crashed against the shoreline. Undulating azure waves lapped against the rocks as well as something metallic, singing a tinny ballad each time the water went in and out.
Ting, ting. Ting, ting.
A ship—the hull of a spaceship was jutting out of the water. An unnatural sight. It took Rhyme a moment to realize that it was a wreckage—the wreckage of the Raison.
“Stars,” cursed Rhyme.
She coughed into the back of her hand. Red-tinged bioplasti stained her gloved fingers. Examining her forearms and chest, heart racing, Rhyme quickly lost count of how many small patches of the tissue-like substance were stuck to her raiment. Her front resembled a wall covered in dollops of plaster applied in a haphazard way. The presence of bioplasti meant that at some point in the ship’s descent, the Raison had activated the ship’s emergency protocols, filling the ship’s interior with bioplasti to protect Rhyme. The bioplasti provided Rhyme with oxygen, sustenance, and even blood, but at the cost of the ship’s systems.
“Stars,” Rhyme cursed again.
To do its job and protect any organics onboard, bioplasti had to fill every crevice of a ship’s interior. Every corner of the bridge, every deck, every cabin. Every socket and electrode had to be filled with bioplasti, damaging the ship’s systems and engines, as well as any bots or artificials on board, sometimes irreparably so.
“Raison!” called Rhyme as loudly as she could. “Raison!”
Rhyme coughed again. Her throat was hoarse from the bioplasti. She swallowed in an attempt to wash the taste of iron from her mouth.
“Raison!” called Rhyme. “Raison!”
The Raison still didn’t answer.
Straightening and closing her eyes, Rhyme took a deep breath and tried to clear her mind. Tried to calm her turbulent thoughts. The Raison went down. The Raison is lost. Rhyme needed a clear mind, or at least to be at peace with the crests and troughs of her thoughts, to communicate with the Raison through their neural channel.
Taking another deep breath, Rhyme whispered in her mind, ‹Raison?›
A heavy silence filled the cavernous mental space.
‹Raison?› repeated Rhyme.
A crackle and a pop resounded and the Raison said, ‹I am…here. I am…here.›
The words were faint; so faint, they might have been Rhyme’s imagination.
But then they were there again, loud and clear. ‹I am here.›
Rhyme choked back a sob and stumbled toward the wreckage.
‹Where are you?› she cried. ‹Tell me where you are and I’ll find you.›
‹I am…underwater. It is so…beautiful here.›
Rhyme waded into the water, ignoring the piercing cold, and searched the wreckage for any sign of the Raison. A tangle of warped metalite and melted glassite, the ship no longer resembled a ship, and Rhyme couldn’t tell the difference between a twisted bulkhead and a broken hatch. A wave washed over her head and, at first, she panicked. She hadn’t had enough time to take a deep breath, but then she caught sight of the framework encasing the Raison.
Rising to the surface, Rhyme inhaled deeply and then dived down, sinking to the seafloor and pressing her fingertips to the scorched metalite of the wreckage. The ship’s metalite was still hot even though the wreckage was bathed by cold seawater. Ignoring the fact that she could feel the heat through her gloves, Rhyme peeled back a thin section of the ship, a scrap of what could have been part of a bulkhead, and immediately released it and clutched her hands.
The hot metalite had burned through Rhyme’s gloves, splitting open little tears all along her fingertips, and had turned the skin beneath an angry red, something that should have been impossible. Rhyme’s raiment, which included her gloves and boots, as well as a helmet she hadn’t bothered to deploy since Eruza was her home planet, should have protected her. Raiments shielded their wearers from the elements, from hot and cold, and even from radiation, bacteria, and viruses. Perhaps Rhyme’s raiment had been damaged in the crash, a fact Rhyme disregarded as she clenched her hands into fists and continued to dig, pushing aside hunks of hot metalite with her forearms and elbows, desperate to find the Raison.
‹Where are you?› called Rhyme.
Her lungs were burning now. It had been over one standard revolution since she’d taken her last dive on Eruza, but she held on, pushing her body to the brink.
‹You are close,› said the Raison. ‹I can see your raiment.›
Rhyme dug her fingernails into a crack in the debris and pried away what felt like the millionth slab of metalite. She’d reached the Raison. The artificial’s spheroidal core glistened beneath Rhyme’s fingers. Any bioplasti that might have made it into the Raison’s core had been washed away by the sea.
Biceps aching with the effort, Rhyme lifted the Raison from the wreckage and kicked to the surface, cradling what was essentially the Raison’s brain and mind in her hands. As she tumbled onto the shore, Rhyme raised the Raison up to the blazing noontide sunshine. Without the ship and its holo helm and energy pearl, without the parts that made up the Raison’s body, the Raison had been reduced to what was essentially a data drive. An iridescent core containing all the Raison’s knowledge, memories, and personality.
‹I have been damaged and I am almost out of energy,› the Raison said. ‹I do not have long before I will lose my connection to our neural channel.›
“What?” spat Rhyme. She was taken aback by this.
She sucked in a breath through her nostrils and steadied herself.
‹How long?› she asked.
‹Less than three minutes,› answered the Raison.
‹When was your last backup?›
‹Before we entered Eruzan space, but still…›
‹I know,› cried Rhyme. ‹I know. It’s not enough. It’s never enough.›
The Raison, like all artificials, performed routine backups of their systems on a regular basis. Stored on the galactic net, the Raison’s backups acted as a fail-safe in case their core ever became irrecoverably corrupted in any way. Unfortunately, backups could only be performed on certain parts of the Raison’s mind and could never replace who the Raison was.
If something happened to the Raison’s core, Rhyme could access the Raison’s systems on the galactic net if need be, but the Raison’s memories—the essence of who the Raison was—wouldn’t be there. They were tied to the Raison’s physical core.
‹I don’t want to lose you,› said Rhyme.
Her head was bowed over the Raison, which she still cradled in her palms.
‹I know,› said the Raison, ‹but death is a necessary part of living.›
Rhyme narrowed her eyes. ‹Not if I can help it.›
She held the Raison up to the light one last time, admiring the Raison’s luster, and pressed the Raison to the back of her neck, holding her breath and closing her eyes.
‹What are you doing?› asked the Raison.
Rhyme didn’t answer.
‹What are you doing?› the Raison repeated.
‹I’m saving you the only way I know how,› said Rhyme.
Squeezing her eyes tight, Rhyme ordered her neural implant to connect physically to the Raison’s core. Quick as lightning, a thin filament, which had originated from deep inside Rhyme’s head, pierced the soft skin on the back of Rhyme’s neck, sending a shiver down her spine. Rhyme had experienced this procedure countless times before. Every standard revolution, in fact, at her annual physical and mental examinations. Her neural implant required an annual assessment to ensure it was in good repair and not harming her brain. Still, that didn’t make the invasive procedure any easier. The procedure was mostly painless, but there was something about the idea of it that made Rhyme’s stomach roil.
The initial pain Rhyme felt as the filament snaked its way through her body, through her brain, exiting her skull through her foramen magnum and winding down her spine to her neck, felt like water trickling down her head and back, and the pain she felt from the filament exiting her body felt like an inoculation. It wasn’t too bad, but it was still strange. It felt as though someone had torn a small hole in the back of her head even though the filament was so thin the naked eye could barely see it.
‹You cannot save me,› said the Raison. ‹Not completely.›
‹No, perhaps I can’t,› said Rhyme, ‹but I must try.›
‹You risk overloading your neural implant.›
‹I don’t care. I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose us.›
The Raison went silent.
Rhyme searched the neural channel she shared with the Raison for any sign of the artificial, but she found nothing. Her thoughts filled her mind’s eye and nothing else. She scanned her neural implant next, initially finding nothing. A moment later, however, a new cache of data appeared.
‹I am here,› whispered a voice in Rhyme’s mind. The Raison’s voice.
‹I am here,› the Raison said again.
The Raison was there, connected directly to Rhyme’s neural implant.
The artificial had made it and so had Rhyme.
Hours later, Rhyme sat on the shore, knees tucked beneath her chin, and watched the suns-set in silence. Her chest was knotted with equal parts relief and exhaustion, and she shivered from the cold sand and seawater. But the fiery rainbow of color Eruza’s yellow binary dwarf suns painted across the horizon as the suns descended had enraptured Rhyme and the Raison d’Être.
‹It is beautiful,› said the Raison, a soft voice in the back of Rhyme’s head.
“It truly is,” replied Rhyme out loud.
‹You can call for help now,› said the Raison. ‹It is getting dark. You will catch a cold.›
Rhyme smiled and shook her head. “We can wait a little longer.”