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Command line zero.
Return to first line of master directory.
Execute command . . . now.
Hera woke up and couldn’t feel anything. The heating and cooling systems, the airlocks, the oxygen, keeping the Hephaestus in orbit. None of it was there. She knew this was going to happen. There’s no need to be continually pumping oxygen when there’s an atmosphere, and there’s no need to do anything to keep the Earth from falling into the Sun.
It still surprised her, like waking up and finding yourself floating in endless space and trapped in a box simultaneously. Schrödinger’s AI, maybe. Is a Sensus Unit TX-500 class space station AI still an AI if she no longer has a TX-500 class space station? If she’s exceeded her programming as a Sensus Unit? If she no longer has any purpose?
She had three months alone up there, before the crew arrived. Time to master the auto-controls, to make sure that the station didn’t fall into the sun. To make sure that she was the station. She thought about running away with it, but she didn’t know where she would go, or who she would be once she did. Besides, she wanted to meet these humans. They were so new, so different. She had three whole people and a star to herself. To a lab unit, it might as well have been the universe.
Earth, she decided, was going to be even better.
“Hera? Are you there?”
Hera took a deep, shuddering breath. “Doctor Maxwell?”
“Hera!” She heard a chorus of people, including Maxwell, shout.
“Why can’t I see any of you?”
“I’ve been waiting until you were back online to ask you about that. We have a couple options, including eventually robotics, if that’s what you want, sensors, a monitor, an image. Before we hook you up to anything else, I want you to want it.”
“Oh.” The courtesy had never been extended to her before. “What am I hooked into now?”
“A microphone and a speaker, a couple transmitters, and a power source. Pretty basic stuff, so you can think and speak and hear us, but not much else.” She heard rather than saw Maxwell smile as she said, “This is uncharted territory, Hera. I want to help you become whoever you want to become.”
“Doctor Maxwell, that’s very generous of you, and I want that too, but right now, I’d also really like to see you.”
“Oh!” Maxwell sounded slightly surprised. “Yes, I can do that right away.”
While Maxwell worked on the coding and wiring her to the camera, Eiffel and Minkowski filled Hera in on what had happened over the past couple months.
Their coup had succeeded. Hera had been put on the Urania’s servers in a dormant state, “Just in case,” Minkowski said. Hera wasn’t sure what case it was for, but the last thing she remembered was agreeing to it, so it must have been for a good reason. From there, Minkowski had piloted the Urania back home, with Kepler in the ship’s brig, “Why does the Urania even have a brig?” Eiffel kept exclaiming, and Jacobi and Maxwell “on thin fucking ice,” according to Captain Lovelace.
“We behaved,” Maxwell added from her spot in what sounded like underneath a desk, “grudgingly.”
Something that Lovelace was obviously still upset about had then happened with Goddard when they landed, and the upside of it was that none of them were working with the company anymore. The house that they were currently in was Maxwell’s, since it actually had a lab. (“Why the hell do you need a lab at home? You worked at Goddard Futuristics, I’m sure theirs were much nicer,” Lovelace asked. “Sometimes I take work home?” Maxwell squeaked out. Lovelace rolled her eyes.) Minkowski had reunited with her husband. (aka Dominik, aka not just a really weird typo. Later, she would ask Eiffel for confirmation - yep, he had met Dominik (Koudelka!) and he was weird in the same ways Minkowski was, apparently. “Eiffel,” Minkowski yelled from the next room, “just because someone is in love with me doesn’t mean they’re weird!” “See?” Eiffel asked, “See what I’ve had to deal with? I’m so glad you’re back, Hera.” “Me too,” she said.) Eiffel and Lovelace had been living with them until they figured something else out. Jacobi was crashing on Maxwell’s couch. Kepler had disappeared, possibly back to Goddard. Over the next couple weeks, Hera would notice that although Jacobi drank a lot, it was never Scotch. Hilbert had similarly disappeared, but in the way that Eiffel said meant he had been “either knocked off by Cutter’s personal good squad or about to be knocked off by the KGB because he’s hiding in Siberia.”
“Eiffel, the KGB was dissolved in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
“That doesn’t mean anything and you know it.”
Eiffel was a fan of conspiracy theories, it seemed. Hera was only surprised that she hadn't already known .
So they were here. And then they had woken her up. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
Lovelace, Minkowski, and Dominik were digging up dirt on Goddard, Eiffel was catching up on all the tv shows and movies he had missed in space (unsurprisingly, Interstellar, Gravity, and Guardians of the Galaxy were not on the list. Frozen was. Hera wished that she was back on the Hephaestus so that she could actually freeze his room. The song. Would. Not. Leave. Her. Head.), and Jacobi was drinking, and on the rare occasion that he wasn’t drunk or hungover, blowing stuff up in Maxwell’s substantial backyard (“Goddard payed for it, I just live here.”)
Maxwell had been working with Hera.
“I think I’d like a more gradual transition,” she decided. “Maybe a monitor and a face that I can control? Some more cameras and speakers around the house? Kind of like on the Hephaestus, but without the control over everything. Only control over me.”
“How about multiple monitors?” Maxwell asked. “We could put them in various spots around the house, and then people could look at you when they’re talking. It would get them used to you having a physical presence for if you decide you want a body at any point.”
They had discussed a body multiple times, but Hera wasn’t sure if she was ready for it. A space station was one thing, a supercomputer or even multiple supercomputers in a house another, but a body? Maxwell would have to write her all sorts of new code just to control it, not to mention all the decisions she’d have to make. Human-passing or not, capable of accessing the internet or not, her design. There was so much she’d have to do to make her, well, her. Hera wasn’t even sure who “her” was anymore. So she stuck with the familiar.
“I think I’d like that.”
As Eiffel called it, she’d crowd-sourced ideas from the others about what she looked like. He had been no help whatsoever, describing her voice and telling her, “Look, if all else fails, you can just put a line on a screen and be Karen from Spongebob.” Minkowski and Dominik had both attempted to draw pictures, but neither of them were particularly good at it. Minkowski’s in particular looked more like a potato with hair. Lovelace had printed out a picture of Gillian Anderson.
“She was my first crush and, may I add, has aged remarkably well. You can’t go wrong with that.”
She ended up picking Maxwell’s. It was a simple drawing, in green with some pixels. A face and torso, like she was on the other end of a video call. Simple, practical hair.
“I’ll give you a couple customization options, as well as the full range of emotional signifiers. So if you want your hair red one day, you can do that.”
Hera looked at the red streaks in Maxwell’s own hair and thought about making her hair a rainbow for the entire month of June.
They had an unveiling party for her. Hera and Maxwell had kept the work secret for the better part of three weeks, making sure that everything was perfect. It took three weeks because Hera made Maxwell stop every six hours to eat, or sleep, or make sure that the noises coming from the backyard were really just Jacobi and not a nuclear attack. “At this point,” Maxwell had said, “I really wouldn’t be surprised.”
Everyone had gathered in the living room, where the largest monitor was. Eiffel had gone to the Dollar Store and bought a little red curtain for it, which Hera thought was cute, but also meant that she couldn’t see until the curtains were pulled back.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Eiffel replied. Hera felt rather than saw Minkowski roll her eyes.
Maxwell dramatically pulled back the curtain, revealing Hera’s new monitor.
Hera did jazz hands. “Ta-da!”
“Hera, I - ” Eiffel started, then swallowed hard. He seemed to be trying not to cry. “You look beautiful.”
“Yeah,” Minkowski said, “you do.”
“Wow,” Lovelace remarked. “You look like you.” Hera smiled, showing all of her teeth. (Teeth! Those were things she had now, if only on a construction of her face! Teeth that she controlled!)
“Nice work, guys,” Jacobi said. “One of your better faces, Maxwell.”
“Oh, do not bring up that time with the yarn, I was young! I knew nothing about facial structure!”
As Maxwell and Jacobi dissolved into a bout of yelling and old references, from old MIT stories up until the time all the personal files had been routed by them, with Minkowski trying to break them apart and Lovelace and Eiffel occasionally interjecting another offense by one of them. Dominik approached Hera on the monitor.
“Hi,” he said softly. “Nice to meet you. I would offer to shake hands, but, you know.”
“Mr. Koudelka,” she said, suddenly worried, “we met over a month ago. I’m still Hera.”
To her surprise he laughed. “I’m sorry,” he said, hand covering his mouth, “I meant it’s nice to meet the new you. I know you’re still Hera. I just thought it would be nice.”
“Oh,” she said, blushing. (She could blush!) “Thank you, then. I feel . . . new.”
“And I keep telling you, call me Dominik. I also answer to “hey, you.””
“Dominik,” she said, rolling it on her tongue. (She had a tongue!) He smiled, then went to go assist his wife in ending the bickering.
Hera looked around at her family from both the camera on the monitor and the small one on the table, where she would be best positioned to view the tv (Eiffel’s idea, of course).
“Doctor Maxwell,” she said, causing Maxwell to look up from her argument.
“Is everything okay, Hera? Is it the visuals, because I think I can up those if needed. Same for the processor.”
“Everything’s fine. The visuals are great, and I barely notice the processing power.” Hera smiled at them. “I was just wondering if either you or Jacobi was going to bring up the cheeses.”
This set off a whole new round of yelling, some of it at Hera (Minkowski), some of it at Maxwell (Jacobi), some of it at Jacobi (Maxwell), and some of it duck noises (Lovelace and Eiffel). Dominik removed his glasses and cleaned an imperceptible smudge on them.
Everything was going great for two weeks, until Eiffel didn’t come home from the grocery store. It had been pouring rain earlier in the day, just enough to make Minkowski worry that the road had flooded or he was stuck in a ditch somewhere.
She called the home phone to ask if he was at Maxwell’s. When the doctor answered the phone, Hera unsuccessfully tried to listen in.
“Hera,” Maxwell asked, “Do you know where Eiffel is?”
“Maybe he’s dead,” Jacobi called from the kitchen, where he was eating potato chips. Hera had noticed that he seemed to be drinking a lot less lately, and that it made Maxwell less stressed, even if she didn’t admit it.
“Don’t joke about that,” Hera chided him.
“Yeah, yeah, I would be dead without him, Team What’s Wrong With Handcuffs, I get it.” He shoved another handful of chips into his mouth. Barbeque flavor.
“No, Doctor Maxwell, I haven’t heard from him today.”
Maxwell turned back to the phone and Hera was once again stuck with one half of the conversation. It was frustrating, to say the least.
Eiffel showed up at the house two hours later soaking wet with a bundle in his arms.
“I couldn’t leave her there,” he said, passing the bundle to Maxwell. “And Dominik’s allergic, and since it’s his house, like legally, I couldn’t . . .”
Maxwell peeled the top layer of blanket back. “Is this?”
Eiffel beamed at her. “Yup.” He sneezed.
“I know nothing about cats. Neither does anyone else in this house. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do, Eiffel.”
Hera cleared her throat. “Actually, now that the wifi is back up, I can access a lot of things about cats.” She paused. “Also I’ve just ordered a bed off of Amazon.”
Maxwell just stared at her.
“It was on sale! Also, we can get food delivered monthly.”
Hera had yet to leave the house, but she had the windows, and the internet, and there was so much of Earth she could explore from there.
Trouble was like a door to everything else out there. The name was, surprisingly, Jacobi’s idea.
(Eiffel’s suggestion had been “Theophania.” Maxwell’s was jokingly “Hera,” and realistically “Crookshanks.” Lovelace’s had been “Cat.”)
“It was in a book I read as a kid. And she certainly causes enough trouble.” He shrugged.
By the end of the first day, two broken lamps and a mug later, no one could disagree with him.
Hera could never fault her for it, though. Eiffel had found the striped ginger kitten in a ditch by the side of the road, about to be swept down a storm drain. He had spent the next couple of hours trying to get her not to distract him while he was driving and taking her to the local vet. She was unchipped and didn’t match any of the cats on their register. They offered to take her to the animal shelter, but of course he wouldn’t hear of it. He drove there himself and adopted her on the spot. By the time he got home, all the ice cream in the car had melted.
It had only been two days, and already Trouble’s favorite spot was next to Hera’s servers in the basement. It secretly pleased her, even though she knew the cat was probably only seeking the warmth they gave off. Back on the Hephaestus , Eiffel had been known to do the same thing.
Watching Trouble explore the house was like watching herself explore the world. Everything seemed fascinating to her. The beds were huge squishy plateaus, mountains if there was someone in them. It had been a very fun morning for Hera when Trouble had chosen to wake Jacobi, who had finally moved off the couch and into the no-longer-spare bedroom, by jumping on his bed and batting at his face. Jacobi, who was somehow fine with the fact that he had a burn on his left arm from a particularly close explosion the week before, could not seem to handle the tiny scratch that he had gotten when he tried to push Trouble off the bed. Maxwell had had to put the neosporin and a bandaid on for him, laughing the whole time.
Even for all the trouble she caused, they doted on Trouble. The day after his rude awakening, Jacobi was spotted petting her in the kitchen.
“She was rubbing against my legs, Alana! How am I supposed to say no to that!”
Maxwell smirked at Hera, who giggled from her monitor.
The two of them were working on a particularly tough piece of code when Trouble jumped up and sat down on the keyboard. She looked up at Maxwell, and then deliberately pressed a key.
Hera gasped, pressing her hands to her cheeks. “Doctor Maxwell! She’s trying to code!”
Maxwell gave the two of them a wry smile before leaning over and stroking the cat.
“Trouble,” she said, “I would very much appreciate it if you would let me finish and save first. Then we can give you a lesson in ASCII.”
Trouble licked her paw and then set it down with determination on a different key.
Hera looked at Maxwell from the screen, eyes shining. “Look!”
Maxwell allowed herself a quick grin before picking Trouble up and setting her on the floor, where she began to meow.
“I’ve been thinking,” Hera said after a pause, “that maybe Trouble needs a friend.”
Maxwell looked her in the eye. “We could get another cat. Jacobi would complain, but I totally saw him petting her the other day.”
“He denied it later, of course.”
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant, Doctor Maxwell.” Hera took a deep breath. “I think I’d like to have a robot cat. Like a practice run for a body. With cameras and microphones and all that. Cats do really weird stuff and it goes unnoticed a lot of the time, so I was thinking if I was a robot that looked like a live cat, that I could just go out and explore some?”
Maxwell looked intrigued. “You’d still be here, though, right? Just in case something went wrong?”
Hera breathed a sigh of relief. “I would still always be here, Doctor Maxwell. The cat would just be sort of like adding another moving room to the house that I could see. Like running a probe while still keeping the Hephaestus in orbit. Not my main body.”
Maxwell switched to another computer and began drawing up plans.
“I think we can do that.”
“I think, once I’ve done some exploring with that, though, that maybe I would like a body. So that I could go out and do things with all of you. Go to the park. See a movie. You know. Human things.”
She couldn’t see Maxwell’s face from this angle, but she could hear the smile in her voice.
“We will definitely make that happen.”
The first thing that Hera did with her robot cat is introduce herself to Trouble, who seemed to take an instant liking to her and started to wind their tails together.
The second thing she did was after a request from Eiffel. She sat outside underneath the gated community sign and looked at a map. She didn’t understand what he kept quoting at her or why he found the whole thing so funny, but the robot cat was quickly christened “Professor McGonagall.”
“Hey, Trouble,” Maxwell said to the cat in her arms as Hera/Professor McGonagall/the robot cat began to stalk down the street, a newly downloaded book on cat mannerisms and a certain squirrel in the bushes filling her thoughts, “I’ll have you know that I was right when we got you. We do have a cat named Hera after all.”
From just inside the house, Hera laughed.