On a particular evening that could have been like any other, the perennial pair of late shifters Alexandra Geninov and Fernanda Santapena-De La Rosa found themselves once more drawn by duty to the bridge of the UNX-001 Brigand. Both of them were ordered to stand ready for another night that would be assuredly full of petty bickering and sniping. Though they tried their best not to do so, procrastinating some amount of time in their rooms to give the other a head start, the two quickly ran into one another in the hall and found themselves at the exact same pace to their destination.
Fernanda gave her blond-and-purple hair a haughty toss and turned her cheek.
“One would think you were shadowing my steps, gamer, with how regrettably often I meet thee!”
Alex rolled her eyes, but made no effort to keep her lanky frame at length from the smaller officer.
“Well, since you’re here, listen: you can’t just drop a thee at random when you already used you.”
Fernanda bared gritted fangs and closed her fists. “Oh, just be quiet, Geninov!”
Alex raised her hand to her own cheek and put on a silly expression.
Had her silky brown hair not been tied up in its usual bun, she would have tried to do a mocking toss of it.
“Silence, ye pitiable gaming worm— or something like that, would be more appropriate.”
Met with narrowed, unfriendly eyes, Alex felt rather satisfied with herself until, distracted as she was, she stumbled right over a folding chair which had been left in the middle of the hall. Even in the evening, with the hall to the bridge becoming quite uninhabited, one would not have expected a folding chair to be in the way, and so Alex hit her leg with it, lost her balance over it, tipped right across the seat and slid off, coming to rest on her back with the wind knocked out of her. Staring up at the ceiling, with the world spinning around her, she almost thought, maybe Fernanda did have dark powers locked in her eyes, or the ability to perform vile hexes, or all the other strange things she talked about.
“Be careful with the chairs please.”
At that point, Alex thought she heard the droning voice of Braya Zachikova.
But it couldn’t have been. Why would she be out in the middle of the hall for no reason?
In a strange display of camaraderie, Fernanda stood over Alex and actually helped her to get back up.
It was at that point that Alex noticed that along with the folding chair, there was a table in the hall.
A black folding table, behind which was a second folding chair.
And sitting on this particular folding chair was, indeed, Braya Zachikova.
That spiral-shaped ponytail was unmistakable, as well as those two thick antennae she had for ears.
“Please return the guest chair to its neutral position.” She said, giving Alex an unkind look.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Alex started shouting.
Fernanda let go of her in response to her thrashing, and Alex nearly fell over again after being released.
“Zachikova, the fate of certain gamers aside, this behavior stands much unreasonable from you.”
The haughty gunnery officer put her hands to her hips and gave Zachikova a stern look that did nothing to faze her.
“‘What I am doing’ is I’m setting up a fortune-telling station.” Zachikova said.
Her unaffected tone of voice made it sound like the most natural thing to be doing at this hour.
“You’re setting up a fucking, what?” Alex asked. “And fucking, why?”
“An absolute refuse heap of vocabulary, Geninov.” Fernanda shook her head.
Zachikova gave the two a smug little grin. “There is a simple reason. I am bored. Entertain me.”
“I’m gonna flip this table right into your face!” Alex shouted.
“Will you flip it over with your entire body, like the chair?” Zachikova teased.
Fernanda grabbed hold of Alex before she could do something she may have regretted.
While the two of them vainly struggled in this way, Zachikova withdrew a minicomputer.
She set it down on the table, turned it toward the pair and pressed the power button.
Focusing on the screen for a moment, Alex and Fernanda stopped horsing around.
Green text on a black background scrolled by, to be replaced by a logo formed by text characters.
It resembled a crystal ball, lightly shaded, with the words “AugRy v.1.4” below it.
“While the graphics may look unimpressive, this is a fortune telling program honed by advanced machine learning of the sort used for our algorithmic predictors. All it needs from you is for you to touch the screen and speak any word. Using the underlying mathematics behind acoustics, it will divine your future, just as it can divine geometry and the classifications and bearings of enemy ships. And just for tonight, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is yours.”
Zachikova waved her hand over the device like a magician proudly revealing a trick item.
“What kind of sense does that make?” Alex said. “Just touch it, and say anything? Acoustics?”
Zachikova nodded her head silently and without expression. At Alex’s side, her blond companion scoffed.
“Fortune telling finds its provenance in the grandeur of the romantic epics.” Fernanda said. Her thin lips took on a serious expression. “It is unconscionable that a mere machine could divine the twisting fates of mortal souls!”
“What she said.” Alex replied, pointed with her thumb at Fernanda.
“Everything about ‘fate’ can be determined by mathematics.” Zachikova said. For a moment a tiny hint of passion crept into her voice. “From the moment you were born everything about you is a formula that a computer could have already figured out with the right data. Except when this idiot touched a Dendy and allowed it to ruin her entire life.”
“Well I bet your stupid computer wouldn’t have known I actually started on an Imperial Poly-Play–”
“I don’t care about your tedious opinions whatsoever. Just do the thing or go away.” Zachikova said bluntly.
Zachikova stamped her index finger on the table repeatedly like a demanding kiosk owner.
Fernanda and Alex glanced briefly at each other, sighed, and shrugged their shoulders.
“You know what, fine, I’m curious now what the hell this thing will even say.”
Alex put her finger down on the touchscreen and spoke into the hidden microphone at the bottom of the compact, square minicomputer. “Leviathan Fury.” She said. It was the first thing that came to mind — a title she loved to play and for which she held official high score records. Soon as the words left her mouth, the screen on the minicomputer turned into a scrolling wall of green text. Alex watched as the computer slowly generated a coherent message.
You will find lasting love in an unlikely place. Look near before you look far, and keep an open mind.
“That’s it? You just have an RNG in there don’t you? Sophisticated machine learning my ass.”
Alex crossed her arms and casually looked over to Fernanda, who was giving the screen a deathly glare.
“I– I believe I shall concede my own turn! For what adventure is one’s fate, if not unknown?”
There was a tiny tremor in her voice and a blush on her cheeks that Alex simply couldn’t place.
Regardless, all of the mystery had gone out of Zachikova’s little theater, and they were late for work.
“Well, the witch and I are needed on the bridge for late shift, so, uh, bye I guess–“
“I would rather you stay for a moment, actually.”
A gentle voice came from down the hall that send a chill down Alex’s spine.
Fernanda and Alex turned their heads and found a very large figure casually approaching the trio.
Waving one hand, long overcoat draped over her powerful shoulders, a smile on her soft and girlish face; it was none other than Security Chief Evgenya Akulantova, the enormous grey phantom stalking the halls of the Brigand ready to chomp on unsuspecting night shifters found goofing off. Despite her size and power, she could be whisper quiet when she wanted to, and never missed her mark. Alex and Fernanda had a powerful reaction even to the cheerful and maidenly demeanor of the Security Chief, who came to a stop between the two and looked down at the table.
“This is such a novel way of causing trouble that I’m more excited than pissed off.” Akulantova said.
She crossed her burly arms over her broad chest and stared directly at Zachikova.
Zachikova’s dull, unemotional expression did not change with Akulantova’s appearance.
“So, since you’re seated at the table that’s presently being a safety hazard right smack in the hall like this, Zachikova, can you explain to me what you’re even up to? Are you all gambling? I frankly can’t read this situation at all.”
“I’m administering a sophisticated fortune-telling program created by advanced machine learning.” Zachikova said.
Akulantova smiled and let out a toothy, jovial laugh.
“Fortune telling? Why are you doing this out in the hall at the start of the late shift?”
“I am bored and wanted attention.” Zachikova said simply.
“Kinda childish, don’t you think? You have important work to do, you know?” Akulantova said.
“I have already completed all my important work. My superior IQ and untroubled neurology renders me much more efficient at my tasks than the rest of you. This is both good and bad. It allows our ship to operate in the information space at much higher capacities than crews of which I am not a part of. It also means I am frequently very bored.”
After explaining herself, Zachikova’s lips curled into a tiny self-satisfied grin.
Akulantova smiled vacantly at Zachikova for a moment.
She set her jaw, and clicked her tongue.
“You two can go.” She said, briefly clasping her hands on Alex and Fernanda’s shoulders.
For her part, Alex felt like she was close to passing out from the brief but intense pressure.
“Zachikova, since you’re so bored, I’m going to give your mighty self something to focus on.”
Akulantova gently took Zachikova’s computer with one hand, and seized the folding table with the other hand,.
With a metallic creak, the table began to warp and buckle in Akulantova’s clearly wrathful grip.
“To make amends for your flagrant safety violations, you’re going to keep an eye on the bearing monitor in the hall here for two hours, and while you do that, just so you don’t fall asleep on me, and to get your blood pumping, you’ll do squats. Hundreds of squats. If you don’t know the form, I can show you like I’m showing this table I got in my hands how to squat.” Akulantova’s grip tightened on the table to the point her fingers went through the plastic surface.
Zachikova, still seated in her chair, did not hesitate to stand up and walk across the hall to the bearing monitor.
Standing in front of it, she lowered herself into a perfect squat and made sure she was being watched complying.
Watching her squat away, Akulantova sighed deeply and shook her head, murmuring “Officers,” to herself.
She then looked down at the minicomputer in her hand with a weary curiosity.
“Hey Chief, if you want your fortune told, just touch the thing and say a word.” Alex said.
She was trying to be amicable, but Akulantova merely glared at her sidelong.
Alex and Fernanda took the hint, saluted, and quickly went about their way.
Once they were out of earshot and Zachikova was well engaged in her punishment, Akulantova laid her thumb on the touchscreen and raised the underside of the minicomputer near her lips. She whispered a name, “Syrah,” into the machine and watched the text churn for a few moments. Looking about in a conspiratorial fashion, hoping no one else would appear in the halls, she then looked back down at the screen in time to catch her fortune spelling itself out.
Do not expect a second chance. Forgive yourself even if she doesn’t forgive you, and seek a new flame.
Akulantova stared at it for a while and sighed to herself, running her free hand over her face.
“Ugh, god damn it. Doesn’t take sophisticated machine learning to know that.” She mumbled bitterly.