(Previously. Also, this chapter is mirrored at AO3)
I kicked off down the corridor, caught myself at the entrance and hooked my way into the common area, pausing briefly on the central cable near the entrance to have a look around.
Near me some programmers at arms were having an animated conversation – something about Nash equilibria – while further down there was a larger group hanging off each other in an amiably silent cluster. On the other side of the shaft from them, two pairs were deep in conversation. I recognised most of the faces, but nobody I was that close to.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to interact with any of them just yet. I was here for a meal, which gave me a solid excuse: I like to eat alone. It’s a registered eccentricity. Sure, it makes people think I’m weird, but having it registered means they don’t think I’m being anti-social.
I pulled my way along the cable to the end of the room, grabbed a pouch from the dispenser, and bounced back to hook myself on about halfway down – not far enough from people to seem standoffish, not close enough that I might have had to interact with them.
Yes, I know I have a problem. I’m working on it, OK?
The meal had a bit of an odd flavour. The yeast was… well not exactly bad, but there was a musty flavour to it that definitely wasn’t good. I made a note about it and my HUD informed me there was a vote on the subject.
Apparently there had been a harmless contamination of this batch. The vote was whether to dump it and cycle in a new one, or just eat our way through it until it was finished.
I spent some time looking through the predictive models – it wouldn’t really strain us. The reduced resources would mean we’d probably have a couple people go to sleep until they were back up to standard, but we’ve got about 400 megaseconds to destination so there’s plenty of time to go around.
So, why not? We might as well ditch it. I expressed my intended vote and preference strength, my tactical assistant suggested a figure, and I approved it. Done.
As was my meal. Which, sadly, meant that I was going to have to talk to people. I called up the matchmaker and started to ask for suggestions but, thank the Plan, I was saved from having to deal with it by … ugh, let’s go with “Zod-Bim”, sailing in through the doorway.
I sighed slightly and waved at them anyway.
Their response was more enthusiastic. They grinned broadly and practically launched themselves across the room at me. They arrested their momentum by grabbing onto my shirt, hooked in next to me, and then cuddled up close. We cheek-kissed hello.
My HUD made an approving notification at the social contact.
“Arthur! It’s good to see you! It’s been megaseconds!”
(HUD flashed the correction that it had in fact been four hundred kiloseconds. We both ignored it).
“Good to see you too, Zod-Bim”
“Zod-Bim? I have a registered use-name you know.”
“I am not going to call you Ghost Walker 5000.”
“Oh come on. How would you like it if I called you Vic-Taf? I thought we were friends!”
“Arthur is an entirely respectable use name. Ghost Walker 5000 is a terrible cartoon character from an inappropriately antisocial grounder culture.”
“Ghost Walker 5000 is a timeless classic with a lot to teach us!”
I sighed dramatically and buried my head in their shoulder.
“Ghost Walker 5000 is a shallow drama about a hapless individualist who bounces from problem to problem, flails around for a few kiloseconds and then ultimately solves things with violence.”
“I solve things with violence.”
“You solve things with tactics. Ghost Walker 5000 hits people with their fists.”
“I hit people with my fists too!”
“Krav Maga practice isn’t the same!”
Zod-Bim sighed dramatically.
“Fine, be like that. You can have a boring person use name for me. Go ahead, pick one. I don’t care.”
That was not an answer I was expecting. Even with the casual attitude Zod-Bim has on the subject, picking someone else’s use name is a big deal. I hadn’t thought we were that close friends. I didn’t even know where to start, so I asked the system to suggest a couple names and had a quick look over them to get some ideas.
“Wait you want it now?”
“Well you can’t very well keep calling me Zod-Bim until you’ve picked the perfect name, can you?”
I asked for a couple good suggestions with an affinity to my use name – if I didn’t have time to do it properly I was at least going to make it a bit personal – and picked the third one because I thought it would amuse them.
“How about Sam?”
“Wait, I can be Sam?”
I checked with wiki.
“System thinks so. You couldn’t be sam-sam, but with just one byte there’s no ambiguity.”
“Amazing! I’m Sam now!”
My HUD flashed up a notification that Zod-Bim had added a new use name, along with congratulations on the positive social interaction and a cautionary note about the dangers of pairing. I dismissed it.
“So, Sam, what have you been up to?”
“Oh I have had the worst time of it recently. That lot over there” – they waved to the group near the door – “have been hogging all the war simulator time, so I’m mostly just teaching Krav Maga classes at the moment.”
“Why is that bad? Didn’t you just say you liked hitting people?”
“Yes but these students are terrible. It’s like they learned to fight by watching Lesbian Space Pirates.”
“Didn’t you learn to fight by watching Lesbian Space Pirates?”
“Hey! That’s slander!”
I seized up. They were right, it was totally untrue, and now they were going to hate me and I was going to get voted off the ship at the next destination and-
“You’re right, I’m sorry, I, uh, I’ll go I”
I started to pull away towards the door but Sam grabbed me. At about the same time I finally noticed my HUD was flashing a giant “THAT WAS A JOKE STOP PANICKING THEY AREN’T OFFENDED” symbol in my face.
“Waste it, Arthur, I’m sorry. That was stupid.”
I tried to brush it off, but allowed myself to be pulled back into their embrace.
“No, no, it’s fine. I should have realised that was a joke. I’m the one being stupid.”
I breathed deeply, trying to will my heart rate back down below two beats per second and repeatedly telling myself it was fine, just a false alarm, and trying to relax.
“You’re right. You are being stupid.”
I froze again.
“I didn’t learn to fight from watching Lesbian Space Pirates. I learned from bod-qof 11, one of the greatest Krav Maga experts in the crew’s history!”
And relaxed again. I could tell I was being deliberately distracted of course, but I went along with it. They meant well, and if they were trying to help me I probably really hadn’t bothered them and they weren’t going to hate me.
“OK, fine. You didn’t learn to fight from a grounder TV show. I was wrong. I get it.”
“They learned to fight from watching Lesbian Space Pirates.”
“Oh, sure, they had a bit of help from the existing self-defence classes and a few millenia worth of VR martial arts training programs… But they started with Lesbian Space Pirates.”
Voice stress analysis on HUD didn’t give any indicators that they were joking.
“You are joking, right?”
“No! You mean you don’t know about the grand martial history of the Eschaton Arbitrage and how it was all started by the Lesbian Space Pirates?”
“I, uh. Let’s assume that I don’t.”
“Right, that’s it. You’re coming to the next movie night, and we’re showing you the documentary.”
I tensed a bit and they backpedalled slightly.
“Uh, if that’s OK of course.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I’d like that.”
Movie nights aren’t too bad. They count as a group social activity but I mostly don’t have to talk to anyone. The system knows about the loophole of course but as long as I don’t use it too often it’s fine with it.
“Right, good. It’s decided.”
A calendar invite flashed up and I accepted it.
“Anyway, let me tell you about what these useless trainees did…”
Next chapter, “What’s that noise?”
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