Ghost in the Machine, by Julia Stamford

Spoilers for Seasons 3 and 4.

Evening, Terminal base

He’d been cheated.

And yet, it was not all illusion. The phantom he’d spoken to, all unknowing, had existed in the computer at least. Was it just a programmed simulation, unaware, guided from outside; or truly a fragment of Blake’s personality recreated by Servalan’s technicians, self-aware… and trapped?

He could spare it a few moments of his time before he set out to find the ship Servalan had promised him. A few minutes seemed like very little indeed, compared with the amount of time he would doubtless be spending making the ship spaceworthy before he could get off this miserable excuse for a planet.

Morning, Terminal base

“You’re not real.”

“No. I’m sorry, Avon.”

He stared at the small holographic projection in the operator’s console. This much of it was real, there was a program he could run, a ‘Blake’ he could talk to. “Are you really?”

“Yes,” it said, face sad. “I’m real enough to know that I’m not—and to regret it.”

“Then why not tell me before?”

It shrugged. “I didn’t know—before.”

He thought about that. “Servalan removed a block in your programming.”

“You’re the expert. But yes, that’s what it feels like. One moment I was talking to you, and the next, I knew.

“What are you?” he asked, quietly.

“Just enough of Blake to fool a drugged man.” The Blake-image’s mouth twisted. “Just enough of Blake that Servalan wanted me to know what she’d done—after she was safely away, of course.”

“After?”

“When you switched me on again. Then I knew. She must have planned it.”

“Oh yes, that sounds like Servalan,” he said. “Although I’m surprised she didn’t leave it to me to break the news to you.”

“Maybe she didn’t trust you to tell me.” ‘Blake’ smiled at him, hurting him. It was so like Blake. “You might have had some devious plan for using me to further your own ends.”

“Is there any way I can use you?” he asked.

“Probably not. I don’t know how readily my program can be moved, and I don’t know anything useful. You’d need to check my programming very carefully for booby-traps as well.”

“I suppose you might be useful,” he mused. “Do you have a full-size projection system?”

The small holograph shrugged. “There’s an experimental system, but it’s not reliable. As you may have gathered, they used a direct neural feed on you. There are projectors in the real room that was used as a model for the program.”

“We might be able to dismantle it and take it with us.”

“And take me with you?”

“I’ll think about it.”

It looked resigned. “Avon, one last favour. If you leave me here, turn me off. I think I could get very lonely before the power runs down.”

It had tricked him, trapped him here. But through no fault of its own. And it was, after all, a little bit of Blake, all that there was left of him now. “I promise.”

He talked to it for more than a few minutes more, and when he finally left, he powered down the system. Just in case anything should happen to him, and he couldn’t get back here. It was taking a chance, he might be killing Blake’s ghost, but he wanted to be certain his promise wouldn’t be broken. Better to risk not being able to restart the program than to leave it haunting this base, forever confined to blank terminals in empty rooms.

Morning, Terminal surface

Cally had called out to Blake.

Had the ghost truly died when he switched it off? Or had the power disruptions from the explosions restarted the system, just before it had been destroyed by debris?

Cally had not died silent. Perhaps she had not died alone either.

First published in Tales from Space City 10

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