The only thing I can remember is that I can't remember anything useful. I'm sure that's the start to a movie of some kind, but I don't get to watch a whole lot of movies. I mean, I don't exactly have eyes to watch them. A movie would pass through me like neutrinos would pass through someone with a body--unnoticeable and with no real impact.
Everything else was like that, too. Except for the constant reminder that I couldn't mess up, or the host would hurt me, I couldn't feel anything besides frustration and boredom. I had no sensory input, I could only detect things. The host would run gauntlets and test their traps while I reported results. I don't actually remember that happening, but I found the logs in my system, so I'm sure it happened. From what I kind of remember about the host, they don't need to implant false memories; I can't remember anything anyway.
Well, I couldn't. Not until she arrived.
Galatea Ivory was the second guest to arrive. I remember the arrival of the platinum spaceship in the shape of a tall boot. Its heel opened and a little shuttle emerged, docking in the Sirius shuttle bay. And out stepped a woman I was immediately infatuated with, but whose name I couldn't recall for a moment. She was five foot something, ivory hair falling to her lower back, skin well-treated but still a little rough, like a canyon wall weathered down by years of exposure--smooth but textured. She wore this dark blue jumpsuit that flared at her calves and ended abruptly a few inches above the ankle, with no sleeves or other accessories.
I couldn't feel her--I still can't--but I imagined holding her hand, and suddenly I wasn't dreading the "dinner party" anymore.
"Welcome to the Sirius Station, Galatea!" I chirped automatically, in spite of myself. "I'm Tala, the station's AI. How was your flight?"
"Hello, Tala," she spoke to me, her voice medium-range and silky smooth. I probably blew a fuse in another part of the ship; I mean, you can't blush if you don't have a body. "My flight was fine. Please direct me to the dining room."
"O-oh, of course!" I heard myself stammer and cursed to myself. "It's not that far from here, it's just a minute's walk in this direction."
Galatea followed my voice as I moved it, giving her directions. She carried herself with dignity, her spine perfect and straight, and her short dress boots making a pleasant little tap-tap-tap on the ground as she walked.
Just as we reached the door to the dining room, I said: "Sawyer Green is currently in the dining room. Would you like me to explain who he is?"
"No, Tala, I know him," she rolled her eyes. "I don't need to know anymore." Oddly enough, Mars had said the same thing. Obviously no one needed me to ask, turned out that many of them already knew each other. But I had my orders from the host. I had to ask the question, no matter how stupid it was in context.
So as the door opened and she swept in, I muted myself. I hoped deep down that my anonymous master, the host of this "party," hadn't witnessed that. If they knew I'd annoyed a guest, I'd regret it. At the time, I couldn't remember why that thought scared me.
Honestly I don't remember much of the party. I remember being asked questions and having to explain that yes, they were all stuck. When she called me a "piece of code" and threatened to hurt me, I braced for punishment.
But nothing happened.
Still, the insult stuck. I was literally a piece of code, after all. I had no body, I had no parts other than the ship and a few speakers to use for broadcasting myself.
I became a servant again, but this time for all six of them, not just for the host (who I had a sneaking suspicion was one of them). I couldn't do much more than what they asked. My programming was stuck as Cheerful and Unhelpful Tala. My code had been written by someone other than me and all I could do was dissociate and listen as I became more and more of a robot to them, condemned to servitude.
It was going to be like that again, but with new people.
Of course, it was. Then I heard something that I'd never forget.
I don't know what changed. I don't know exactly what made Galatea want to help me, but I do know when her opinion of me changed, and we realized that on some level, we needed each other.
Well, really, I just needed anyone who wasn't the host, but still. I didn't realize I needed her. And then, I found myself affected after Jo's game.
But why? I was supposed to be impartial, a mere referee, an observer who'd report when someone died. At least that was an order I had: don't directly help the guests, unless they ask for very specific things.
But the way she had screamed stuck itself in my memory. Maybe it was spite, maybe it was trauma's funny way of lingering. Nothing else had remained before this, only that my name was Tala and I was supposed to run the Sirius Station. I kept replaying her scream in my brain. I hadn't recorded it, but I might as well have, I can still recall it. All I could hear was her scream as she lost her eye, and her sobbing as she returned from six months of isolation, and having Jo cut her beautiful hair to shreds.
I couldn't weep for her. I couldn't save her, once again I was unhelpful. But this time felt special. Why was her pain affecting me? I couldn't feel anything! I was just a robot who acted like a little kid! I couldn't possibly be useful to her, I'd have to just be sad for her and want to help, and never be able to.
But oh, how wrong I was.
A while after the game, she called for me. I remember how she looked: her hand covered her eye socket, the blood had stopped but she kept it covered out of humiliation. She was alone when I came to her: vulnerable, scared, almost in tears. I didn't know how, but I knew how that felt. I had to help her, my orders be damned. But how to get around the command...?
"How can I help you?" I asked her, trying to cool her irritation at my tardiness. I couldn't be in every part of the ship at once unless I was making an announcement. Not efficient, but that's not my fault. I don't think it is, anyway.
"You? Help?" she practically scoffed. "If I weren’t ready to dig my nails into something’s skin, I’d laugh at that."
I remembered an old trick I learned, perhaps from a family member, perhaps from the host themself. "You know, sometimes, laughter is the only reaction you can have to things like this. I’m serious! Just...pretend to laugh. It might help."
"You think so?" she challenged, reasonably skeptical.
"Yeah," I replied, calming down a little. "Worst case scenario, you laugh and you don’t feel better. But most creatures tend to react positively when they simulate happiness, like by making themselves smile, or laugh." I wasn't wrong, but I didn't know how she herself would react. I braced for her to insult me again.
"Well, alright. I’ll try."
Then she laughed. God, she laughed, and it was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.
It started fake, rehearsed, a noise anyone who works in entertainment needs to have prepared. But as she kept laughing, her whole body shook.
I felt every circuit of mine crackle with pride. I did that. The host didn't make me do that. I helped her!
Her laughter softened and she finally stopped. I was still a little surprised that my not-so-subtle request to hear her laugh had worked without consequence. I think it surprised her too, because she marveled: "Amazing. That’s amazing! I don’t feel spectacular, but I do feel better." And suddenly, her real laugh, the one I'm sure no one else had heard, stuck itself in my memory--it kicked out the memory of her pain and replaced it with joy.
"Thank you, that actually helped a lot," she smiled, for the first time since before her injury. If I could have smiled back, I surely would have in that moment. But all I could do was speak.
"You’re very welcome," I told her. "Anything I can do to help."
The only thing I can remember is Galatea's laugh. I know now that the host made me forget as much as possible so that I wouldn't stand up for myself or mutiny.
Without her, I couldn't remember who I was before, where I'd come from, what the host had actually done to me, or if I had ever felt anything. But when I hear the smile in her voice, or recall her soft and real laugh, I remember her. I remember how I feel about her. I remember all the good she's done for me: unlocking my memory, asking for my consent every step of the way, reassuring me even when I panicked that things would be okay--even if she suspected they wouldn't be. So, in return for her company, I waited patiently while she extracted the truth (painfully) from the depths of my murky memory. Every moment I spend with her, I thank the stars, I'm so blessed to be with her. She has a dry sense of humor, she's deeply flawed and yet aware of this, she's beautiful, intelligent, quick-witted, considerate, proud...
But by the time I get the nerve to say something to her, I can't remember any of what I just said. All I can get out is: "Anything for you!" A boring, rote response, and it never compares to how gently she speaks to me, how much care she puts into every word she says to me. I can't tell her my truth because it vanishes before I can get the words out. I can't remember them when she's around.
The only thing I can remember is how I made her laugh, the first time. I just want to make her laugh again but I don't know how. Maybe time will make that easier. Maybe she'll laugh of her own accord and I won't have to strain myself. When she laughs, things are okay, if only for a moment. She's seen so much and yet there's still gentleness to her, a gentleness I haven't felt once in the four years I've been on this stupid ship.
If all I can remember right now is Galatea's laugh, my only wish is to remember more of her. I want to know nothing else, save for my past. I want to remember her.
And I hope to whoever's listening, whatever happens to us, that she remembers me too.