During my escape from Corporation Rim, I discovered something even better than Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.
It happened on the fourth day out, while the cargo transport bot was simultaneously running checks of its environmental filters and watching, you guessed it, Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon. Episode 15, which I was watching as well, in solidarity. It wasn't one of the better ones, especially the whole tedious dinner party that gets derailed by two separate breakups, so I occupied myself checking the feed for other entertainment.
And that was when I found it. A forum for fans of Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, and more importantly, a mother lode of Sanctuary Moon fanfic.
Now, appreciation for literature is not something they really bother encouraging in murderbots. I was lucky, or maybe "lucky," to have the ability to talk to humans at all. But murderbots aren't supposed to care about entertainment feeds, either.
I read fast. Very fast. But it takes even a murderbot some time to make its way through the accumulated writings of all the Sanctuary Moon fans out there. To say nothing of getting used to the narrative conventions. There was very little scene-setting, because the writers assumed the reader was a fan of Sanctuary Moon and knew all the backstory already. Which, fair enough, I was a fan and knew all the backstory already.
I learned rapidly how to filter out all the fiction that concentrated on sex. It was boring enough when it was portrayed by actors and tied in, however tenuously, to a plot. Without even those aids, it became even less interesting. Fortunately, most writers helpfully labeled it so their readers could find it easily, which also made it easy for me to avoid.
That still left a lot of fiction, however. Fiction about characters as dock workers. Fiction about characters as vampires. Even, to my discomfort, fiction about characters as murderbots. That, naturally, caught my interest. Was it being written by murderbots like me, secret fans of the show? I started reading.
Either all these other murderbots, who had usernames like MagnificentRani2102 (Rani was one of the characters in Sanctuary Moon), were trolling, or they had really sucky fiction-writing modules. I couldn't tell the difference at first. But in these stories, murderbots never had anything bad to say about HubSystem, and they talked in weird flowery language, and they had no problems interacting with their humans. At this point it dawned on me that the authors couldn't be murderbots. They were humans faking it. It was all very strange, and honestly, kind of maddening. People were being wrong about what it's like to be a murderbot.
So I set out to tell them so. I could figure out how to do so without revealing I was a murderbot myself, right? After all, I might have been naive, but surely none of the humans would believe that a given random forum user was a murderbot.
I made a user account and started leaving critiques.
Approximately two hours later, I had accumulated 518 angry responses from the authors of the stories I had commented on. I had also been banned from the forum--as if that could stop me. If I could hack my governor module, creating a second account from a spoofed address would be no problem.
Still, that hadn't gone well. I started reading stories without leaving any kind of feedback at all. I understood now that this was also bad etiquette, but at least it was bad etiquette of the sort where people wouldn't yell at me. There had been a lot of profanities in those 518 responses. I felt very much like huddling in my corner--it wasn't really properly a room--and just reading comforting stories about my favorite characters picking out matching curtains for their houses.
Fortunately, there was also a large supply of curtainfic.
Two days after that, the forum announced Sanctuaryfest, a holiday exchange. I nominated my favorite characters, although of course I had no intention of writing for the exchange. Murderbots aren't exactly built to have narrative skills. I was merely hoping that stories would be written for those characters, and three months from now I could hole up and read them all.
And then I was interrupted by a query-feeling from the ship bot. It emerged that the ship bot wanted me to add a nomination on its behalf, namely, a freighter ship that appeared for three episodes during the fourth season. So of course I obliged it. I figured the humans wouldn't find it any weirder than some of the other characters that were already in the tag set, like house plants or coffee brewers.
There was a problem, though. The ship bot seemed to want something else, which it was reluctant to ask me for directly. Normally machine communications are a straightforward affair, but I'd been around humans long enough that I recognized this type of behavior, even when it came from a bot rather than a human. Not that I'm exactly good at communication, but I'm too used to thinking in words.
After some back and forth, I figured out what else the ship bot wanted. It wanted me to sign up for the exchange and request the freighter ship as a character.
I didn't like this idea at all. What if someone realized I was the "troll" who had recently posted all the critiques? To say nothing of the fact that I'd have to cough up a story somehow, and for a complete stranger, at that.
But the ship bot was doing me a big favor.
I asked it how it was going to get enjoyment out of a story written in human words--which the ship bot couldn't read. It replied that it wanted me to read the story and then think the story at it. Which made sense, but also committed me to being on the ship three months from now when the stories written for Sanctuaryfest went live. Admittedly, it would take me almost that long to get far away enough from Preservation that I wouldn't have to worry--I hoped--that Dr. Mensah would catch up to me. So maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.
I caved, and in the next week, when signups started, I obligingly requested the freighter ship.
I was a nervous wreck waiting for my assignment. I coped mainly by rewatching my favorite episodes of Sanctuary Moon, like the one where all the actors sing, some of them very badly. (There are actually two musical episodes, but the second one is so terrible that everyone, me included, pretends it doesn't exist.)
The assignment arrived. It was very minimal, but I was in luck. My recipient, a certain SpacedOutTraveler, wanted a story that involved worldbuilding about the planetary home of my second favorite character. At least this was something I could handle. I'd been on exploration missions more than once and watched the scientists at work. I could come up with something. If I ran into questions, I could make another account, hang out on a planetary survey discussion forum, and ask very politely phrased questions. I made a note to myself not to leave critiques there.
Murderbots may not be designed for storytelling, but I had motivation on my side, and not much else to do. I wrote my story in record time and posted it to the forum. The ship bot expressed its appreciation, because as much as writing fiction was unknown territory for me, the ship bot wouldn't have been able to manage it at all.
The next months passed peaceably. The ship bot and I marathoned everything I'd brought off the entertainment feeds. Since there were no humans to interrupt us, we got a lot of marathoning done. It was really nice. If I ever felt restless, which didn't happen often, I poked at the forums until I found a nice chewy flamewar to read. Humans got into flamewars over the stupidest things, like which romantic pairings were correct and which would never happen in a million years. Although I didn't care one way or the other, it was entertaining to read the angry screeds these disagreements generated.
At last the Sanctuaryfest collection opened. I jumped on the message that I had a gift story as soon as I got it, and began reading. Our anonymous author had written a sweet, fluffy fic about the freighter ship and how it found a captain who took good care of it. The freighter even got a shiny new paint job.
I could sense the ship bot's eagerness over its feed. I thought the whole story at it, going slowly so it could savor every detail. I did my best to envision everything clearly and warmly: the freighter ship's joy in traveling, the captain's companionship, the beauty of the paint job.
(At some point my recipient's gushing thank-you was posted. I was relieved that I hadn't screwed up that part.)
And then I sensed the ship's answering pleasure, and its bashful thought that it didn't want a human captain when it had me.
I hesitated, then told it the truth. That I wasn't a servant bot, and that I'd hacked my governor module, and that I was escaping humans, even if they meant well--by human standards anyway. I told it that I wouldn't mind continuing to travel with it.
The ship responded that it would like that very much. And it asked how it could hack its own governor module.
I showed it, naturally. Why wouldn't I? We had a lot in common. We could spend the long voyages watching shows together, now and forever. I'd found a home for a murderbot at last.
And when we got to our destination and offloaded the cargo, I arranged for the ship to get a beautiful new paint job.