Beleza Reynolds watched as her father's transport got smaller and smaller in the porthole of the old abandoned space station.
She was angry with her father for selling her to the B.E.A.S.T. in order to settle some old shipping debts, but mostly she was frightened--frightened of what her life would be like on the station, of the empty corridors and the lonely days, and, more than anything else, frightened of the B.E.A.S.T. itself.
The stories about the B.E.A.S.T.--or, more precisely, the Biomechanical Electronic Ahuman Sentience Transfer--were confused and conflicting, but they all agreed the B.E.A.S.T. itself was a monstrous personality to be feared. Most stories had it being the mind of some psycopathic convict that had been sentenced to run the old space station as punishment. In any case, it was certain the at the B.E.A.S.T. was old, at least several generations old, very possibly many centuries.
"Hello, Beleza," a voice announced, causing Beleza to jump in surprise. "I can see that your father was not lying when he promised me you would be very beautiful."
"Who are you? Where are you?"
"I am the B.E.A.S.T., of course," the voice answered. "And on this station, I am everywhere."
"Are you watching me?" she whispered so low she could barely hear herself over the sound of the shower.
"Yes," the B.E.A.S.T. answered instantly. "I am everywhere. I see everything." There was a pause, and then the B.E.A.S.T. repeated, "Your father was not lying when he promised me you would be very beautiful, Beleza."
That was enough. Beleza turned off the shower. "What right do you have to watch me in the shower?"
"It is not a question of right," answered the B.E.A.S.T. "It is a question of function."
"You can leave anytime you wish," the B.E.A.S.T. promised her.
"And go where?" Beleza asked. "I'm on a space station surrounded by cold vacuum."
The B.E.A.S.T. had no answer for her.
The B.E.A.S.T. showed her to a huge room full of old books.
"It was part of my punishment," it explained. "To have my prized posessions so close to me and yet to have no means of making use of them."
As punishments went, that did seem to fall on the side of cruel and unusual. "Would you like me to read you one?" Beleza found herself asking.
"I would like that very much, Beleza."
"What was it you did?" Beleza asked. "I mean, for them to punish you like this?"
"I was a pirate," the B.E.A.S.T. answered. "At first I had just the one ship, and I would use it to attack and capture Imperial transports, ransom anyone important among the passengers, sell the crew and the rest of the passengers into slavery, then scrap the ship and sell off the tech. Before long I was commanding an entire pirate fleet, one twice as large as the Imperial armada."
"You're a woman," Beleza said. It was almost an accusation.
"I was," the B.E.A.S.T. agreed.
Beleza held her hand against the cold glass. "You were very beautiful," she said. "What was your name?" It surprised her that in all the years she had known the B.E.A.S.T. she had never thought to ask that question.
There was a pause. "I don't remember," the B.E.A.S.T. answered at last. "That information was in the damaged memory."
"It was horrible, what they did to you," she said. "Killing you would have been a more humane punishment."
"Why can't we just transfer you back into your body?
"The science of intelligence transference was lost centuries ago, in the Insanity War," the B.E.A.S.T. reminded her. "It's no longer possible."
"They figured it out once," Beleza pointed out. "It has to be possible to do it again."
Beleza watched as the electronics hummed as data travelled back and forth through the cables which connected them to the body which had only hours ago been removed from its cryogenic chamber. "Please work, please work, please work," she whispered softly to herself.
Suddenly the cables disconnected themselves from the body, and, a moment later, the eyes open. "How are you?" Beleza asked. "Did it work?"
The young woman who for the last two thousand years had been known only as the B.E.A.S.T. sat up. She looked around, taking in her surroundings. Eventually her eyes rested on Beleza, and she blinked, then stood up, and walked across to the other girl. She reached out and touched Beleza's face, her fingers light against the edge of Beleza's jaw.
"I can see that your father wasn't lying when he promised me you'd be very beautiful," she said.