After two months on the Preservation Transit Station I started worrying again. Not about myself. Arada and Overse had promised me hard currency cards in return for coming on their assessment survey and I had told them if they didn’t do anything stupid and came back alive then I would come the next time and make sure they stayed that way. I wanted to catch up on my media. Mensah had made me watch another show about the history of the Preservation Alliance and I needed the time if I wanted to watch it and all my other shows.
Actually, she hadn’t made me watch it. She liked it and I wanted to know why she liked it.
The point is, I was fine. Figuring stuff out. Considering whether all Preservation humans were hopelessly naïve (they never locked their doors) vegetation-obsessed (they never decorated with anything else) or both. Fine.
Mensah, meanwhile, was spending eleven hours a day in her office. I considered hacking the station camera feeds to find out what she was doing in there or setting a ping tracker on her implant. In the end I went to her office and knocked. The security personnel and systems did try to stop me, but it was the middle of the night, which meant there were three augmented humans on lookout duty rather than four and only a couple of monitoring systems to disable. Given the minimal security, I was surprised that she was surprised.
“Murderbot,” she said, and clicked her tongue. “What do you want?”
What I like about Mensah is that often she doesn’t smile with her mouth, but with her voice and eyes. She wasn’t doing that this time. She looked like she wished I was back in the Corporation Rim.
I didn’t say, today you have been sitting in this office for eleven hours and twelve minutes and yesterday you sat in it for eleven hours and twenty-seven minutes and the day before that it was ten hours forty-five.
She would have said, so what. Or worse: why are you spying on me, Murderbot. Or worse than that: why do you care.
“Nothing,” I said, and turned around and went back out.
(The augmented security guys were fine, by the way. One of them even got some reading done. You know, while he was locked in the bathroom.)
The next day Mensah spent a full twelve-hour day cycle in her office, listlessly sorting through piles of documentation and throwing them into a random selection of folders.
I admit it, I hacked the cameras that time. I was worried about her getting dehydrated. Off the feeds, I found out that she had a water cooler in her office, but nothing to explain the random filing. In all the stored audio and video I had of her at work, she didn’t do makework. She made to-do lists and strategies, she adapted them to suit changing circumstances, and then, without fuss or inefficiency, she carried them out. Much like a SecUnit.
(Look, maybe humans don’t like being compared to artificial killing machines, but we do get things done.)
It was more difficult to fool the security guys this time, but I managed it in the end. When I entered, Mensah looked up and said, “Murderbot, what is it.”
She still didn’t sound like she was smiling. She didn’t sound like she’d ever smiled.
“I brought you a sandwich,” I said. I had been going to bring her a glass of water, because all humans drink water and it doesn’t come in flavours. The water cooler in her office ruined that plan so I had had to go and make a selection in a catering establishment, which I hate. I don’t know why humans worry so much about the colour of the goo they stuff into their faces. It all comes out the same.
But I’d seen Mensah eat something like a paneer roll before, and she hadn’t been on planetary survey at the time so it probably hadn't been under nutritional duress. When I gave it to her she looked at it like she didn’t know what it was for, which was great. Well done Murderbot.
I turned away and left her to it. But when I got to the door, she said, “Thank you, Murderbot.”
She’d taken a bite. I nodded at her and went to let the security guards out of the cleaning supplies closet.
On night three, I took in more food. This time I’d picked out kind of sandwich that had the most amount of green stuff, because I had the feeling that Mensah probably needed some vitamins and see above re: Preservation humans and vegetation.
She ate it and drank the coffee I’d brought with it and when she was done she said, “I missed this on TranRollinHyfa. All the time they were holding me, GrayCris only let me have nutrient bars. It wasn’t the best time.”
“Did they hurt you?” I asked.
This is the thing about your neural pathways expanding with hard work and practice. Sometimes you open your mouth and say a thing without meaning to, and it’s because you’re better at understanding humans than you thought you were.
“I didn’t say that,” Mensah said. “I don’t know why you’d say that.”
“It’s okay,” I said. I took the empty plate and cup away.
Mensah spent slightly less time at her desk the next day but it was still late at night station time when I got to her outer office. This time the guards just held up their hands and lowered their weapons. I was about to explain to them how much humans suck at doing their own security – seriously, you don’t let an intruder in just because they’re really persistent at hacking your feeds and putting laxatives in your food – but the nearest one raised a hand before I could get started. “Please don’t do – whatever you were going to do,” he said. “She left orders. You can go in.”
I went in. I’d brought another sandwich. Mensah took it from me and then looked down at her piles of paperwork. “I’m very busy, Murderbot,” she said.
“I can see that.” I sat in her other chair. SecUnits aren’t supposed to use human furniture, at least in the presence of humans, so quite often I make a production of it, stretch out and put my feet on the table and all the rest of it. This time I just sat down.
“I was a hostage,” she said, not looking at me. “A valuable hostage. They couldn’t hurt me.”
“No,” I said. “They couldn't. Not in an obvious way.”
“I’m fine, Murderbot. I don’t want to talk about it.”
"My family want me to talk about it."
“I don’t want you to talk about it. I hate it when people talk about things.”
“Okay,” she said. She sipped her coffee and took a bite of her sandwich. “Glad we agree. Are you just going to sit there?”
“I’m going to watch my shows.” I turned around so I was sitting the wrong way round on the chair and activated the display surface on the wall. Not as large as the ones I’d seen before, but perfectly respectable. It flickered into life as I connected up with the interface.
“Murderbot, that thing is for my briefing presentations, not your entertainment media,” Mensah said. “I’m working here.”
“I’ll keep the sound turned down,” I said.
I kept the sound turned down, but switched on the captioning. It was Mensah’s show, the one she liked, about the history of the Preservation Alliance. After a while she stopped shuffling papers and watched it without saying anything. I didn’t offer to put the volume up. It was quiet, here in the middle of the artificial night on the Preservation Transit Station. No advertising in the feeds. No sound of shooting.
“You should go back to the planet and see your family,” I said, when the episode ended.
“I will,” she said. “Soon. Can we watch the next one?”
"As many as you want," I said.