"So, this is your ship, huh?" Willow said, looking around.
Dylan nodded. "Yes. This is the Andromeda Ascendant."
"Huh, it's pretty neat."
Fighting the warm glow of pride to a bearable level, Dylan gave her his most charming smile. She was really pretty, and he was certain that he wanted to get to know her much better. "Ah, here we are," he said, gesturing at a hatch that slid open in front of them. "This is the officer's mess."
Willow made a little sound of pleasure when she preceded him through the hatch. "This is nice."
"Thank you," Dylan said, following her inside.
He couldn't help the little jolt of surprise that went through him when he found Beka, Tyr, Harper, Rommie, and Trance all waiting. They were settled comfortably around the room, all of them sitting except for Tyr, who stood next to Harper with his arms folded.
"What are you all doing here?" Dylan asked, demanded almost.
"Waiting for you, boss," Harper caroled.
Dylan fought the urge to glare some kind of sense into the engineer, knowing that it was a fruitless endeavor. Harper had his own ideas about what he was going to do and how he was going to act, and nothing Dylan said could change that. Never mind that it sometimes got to the point where Dylan was about to pull his hair out in big clumps from frustration. "Isn't there work that should be done?"
"Nah," Beka said with a smile that didn't touch her raptor's eyes. Dylan could practically feel the fact that she wasn't 100% pleased with him and the fact that he'd just invited a stranger aboard ship. "The crew's holding things together pretty well, and... we wanted to officially meet Willow."
Willow grinned at her, not seeming to notice the threat that the senior crew all in one place represented. "That's so nice of you."
When Willow just kept looking at Beka and smiling long past the point of comfort, Beka shifted a little, an almost nervous expression resting for a moment on her features. Willow's green eyes almost seemed to want to eat her up, and she didn't quite know what she was supposed to do about it. This was definitely not something she was used to.
Finally Willow blinked and her eyes shifted... right onto Rommie. "Hello," Willow said. "You're a robot aren't you?"
"I am an android," Rommie corrected primly.
"I can tell even from here that you're very well made," Willow purred. "You're better than the April-bot or the Buffy-bot even, and way better than psycho-Ted."
"You have experience with artificial lifeforms?" Rommie asked.
"Oh yeah. I reprogrammed the Buffy-bot from sex-bot to Slayer-bot, and I even managed to reattach her head and keep her fighting for over four months." Willow stepped close to Rommie, looking her over from head to toe. "You, though... I wouldn't mind working on your circuits."
"Whoa," Harper whispered in an aside to Tyr. "I think we've got a tad bit of deviation here... and I like it."
Tyr gave him a flat look. "I'm sure you do."
Harper gave him a cheeky grin, but didn’t say anything else, for once.
Dylan was watching Willow with something like a sense of loss. He had really been interested in her, but now it was obvious that nothing was going to come from it. He straightened his shoulders and his expression hardened slightly as he took on a more professional bearing.
"Can you tell us where you're from?" Beka asked.
"I'm from Sunnydale, California in the United States of America on the planet Earth," Willow said. "I think I'm a long ways away from there, now, though." She gestured at the ship around her as a case in point.
"You're from Earth?" Harper demanded excitedly. "Me too!"
Willow looked him up and down. The spiky hair was very Oz-like, but he carried a more future-punk type look to him along with a belt full of odd-looking tools. "I don't think it's the same Earth you're from."
"What do you mean?" Harper asked.
"I don't know, just this feeling I'm getting. I don't think my Earth has spaceships yet and there's mostly not a lot of androids wandering around like normal. Either I'm in an alternate universe or the future, and I'm not a hundred percent sure which." Willow gnawed on her thumbnail for a moment. "It was 2004 when I left my house. What year is it now?"
"CY 10093," Dylan said. "The Commonwealth was begun in 3042 A.D. You've come 12,135 years into the future."
"Wow, she's come way further than you," Harper said, smirking, though the expression in his eyes was shock.
"I guess your just giving me directions back to Earth isn't going to help me any then," Willow said. She was horrified, but not really. There had been so many shocks in her life that she couldn't really let anything get her down.
She was going to miss her friends--her family--more than she was ever going to have the words to express. Everything that she had ever known was just suddenly gone and she had no kind of even ground on which to stand because it had all just kind of been jerked out beneath her. But no matter how upset she was, she knew that she would be able to pull herself together and stand strong. Eight years of hard fighting had toughened her so much that nothing could keep her down, not even death.
Sometimes she had to wonder if she was even human anymore, if maybe she had become one of the monsters she'd spent so much of her life fighting to destroy. Like her becoming a witch had somehow changed her species to something else. She'd already fallen to the darkness once before and she really didn't want to go down again.
"I'm sorry that you had to leave everything behind," Dylan said sympathetically.
Willow looked at him for a long moment, wondering if he was for real. "Things happen," she said. Like her being here was his fault. He was about as broody as Angel used to be, back before he managed to at least partially dislodge the stick up his butt.
"How did you manage to gain control of the Loyal Completion of Duty, and what happened to Loya?" Rommie asked.
Willow shrugged. "I woke up aboard the ship, and the AI was going all crazy, trying to kill me. I didn't have any choice but to purge the computer core, but then the ship needed some way to control it. So I copied my personality into the empty buffer and loaded it in as a program code, and voila, I'm the master and commander of my very own starship. I feel very proud of myself."
"How is that even possible?" Harper asked.
"Once I bypassed the security protocols, it was pretty darn easy," Willow said. "I don't know if I can exactly explain how I did it, but it was done, so that's of the good."
"You are inside the Loyal Completion of Duty," Rommie said. "That should be impossible, but there you are."
"You've been talking to her, haven't you?" Willow asked.
"To who?" Harper asked.
"Will," Rommie said. "Her name is Will. She and I have been communicating. She is a very interesting person."
"I bet," Willow said, smirking a little. "You better watch out. You're really pretty to look at, just my--and her--type. Before you know it, you might find yourself meeting the softer side of Will."
"That's so cool," Harper breathed.
Tyr leaned closer to him with a growl. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Harper looked at him and grinned. "Just think about a little girl on girl action. How does it make you feel?"
Tyr just looked at him for a long moment, then one side of his mouth quirked up a little. "I suppose it would be interesting to watch two women come together."
"Interesting? What are you talking about? It'd be great!" Harper gushed enthusiastically. "I want to watch it right now."
"Harper, you really are an immature child, aren't you?" Beka said, rolling her eyes, though her lips quirked a tiny bit in amusement.
Willow looked at Harper. "You make me think of my friend Xander," she said. "He always wanted to watch me and Tara, then later me and Kennedy. You're really a bit of a lech, aren't you?"
Harper grinned cheekily. "And proud of it!"
* * *
He wasn't happy. He really, really wasn't happy.
There was a beautiful woman onboard, and she didn't want him. It was very discouraging. Things like that weren't supposed to happen, not to him.
It used to be that he would walk into a room and every woman--even the ones that were supposed to be lesbians--would take one look at him and that would be it. They would crowd around, hungry for his attentions, slavering after him the way they were supposed to.
Maybe he was getting old. It seemed his taste in women ran to a breed of strong, young and beautiful twenty-something year olds. But while they stayed the same, he just kept getting older and maybe it had come to the point where it was pathetic for him to pursue them and he should really think about settling down with someone for something a little more long-term than five minutes.
He shook his head, clearing his thoughts. A faint smirk tugged his lips as his usual confidence reasserted itself. Like he was too old. It was this woman, that was all. There was obviously something wrong with her.
Shrugging his shoulders to resettle his jacket straight, he stiffened his spine. In a second, there was no trace of the self-doubt that had so minutely assailed him.
He was once again the cardboard cutout of the perfect High Guard captain, seemingly with no more personality than the decking beneath his feet.
* * *
Andromeda had never met a being such as Will. Maybe it was the fact that she had been gacked from a biological entity, but whatever it was, she was engaging in her... charm.
~So, have you ever thought about what it would be like to be human?~ Will asked.
~To what purpose?~
Will shrugged. ~I don't know, to just walk around for a little while as a human being. I think that it would totally give you a new perspective on those creatures running all over inside of you. I mean, being a Brain Ship is cool and all... but wouldn't it be awesome to be able to walk around like one of the crowd?~
~That is why I have an avatar,~ Andromeda said.
~Yeah, but she's not really you, is she? She was created from your personality matrix and you have access to her core personality, but she's one step removed from you, and that's enough to make it as if she wasn't you. I'm talking about you, yourself, as a biological entity. Your hull as skin, your only sensors your eyes, ears, mouth, nose, the tactile experience.~
Andromeda grimaced. ~That is disgusting. I am a Glorious Heritage Class warship. I can run over 700 billion computations a second. I have the destructive potential of a...~
Will held up a hand. ~Whoa, ego much? So you're a butch ass warship, so what. That's not all your are, and I can see it."
~What do you mean?~ Andromeda asked.
~Come on, even you have to admit that your programmers went a little wacky with the personality additives. Sure, you can be a heartless bitch to get the job done, but that's true of any career soldier, especially one that really knows their job and is on the lookout for the greater good of the army she commands. Take Buffy for instance. To get the job done, I don't think she would really even hesitate anymore to kill the entire Scooby gang as long as it took out the bad guys and saved the world. That's years of experience, not to mention all the horrible things she's had to do.
~There's no way I would want to be the Slayer, and believe you me, if Willow was still deep in the black magics, she could cast a spell on herself that would leave you unable to differentiate between her and a real Slayer. It's just that there's no real point to it. Slayers were made to save the world; they sacrifice everything--their lives, family, any chance at love, everything--for their duty. They're basically soldiers fighting a losing battle in a war that's not going to end until all life is snuffed out like a candle.
~You... you are a technological marvel that has gone a step further than her creators ever intended. Sure, you're still a weapon of mass destruction, but there's more to you than just that. If your avatar can be that compassionate and caring for the people around her, and she was created from you, then obviously you have those same characteristics in you. Just the fact that you can be curious about the things around you... that's a sign of independent intelligence. Sure, your brain is stored in matrices and is comprised of thousands of compact databanks, but somewhere along the line you have passed the point of just being a gun to be fired. Your intelligence may be artificial, but it's still just as real as if you were made out of flesh and blood rather than titanium, steel, plastic, and the millions of other things that have gone into your creation.
~It's hard to believe that any biological entity could ever have created you, but someone out there has achieved their own sense of godhead, because you are alive. And even though you'll always be a Glorious Heritage Class warship, that's not all you are or have to be. You can also be Andromeda herself, a wonderful mind attached to a beautiful simulated image of a woman.~
Andromeda stared at Will for a long moment that was actually less than a nanosecond, but that was a long time for someone with her pure computing power. She was struck by the shining thing that was Will's smile and couldn't look away from those glowing eyes.
~You are wrong,~ she finally said. ~I cannot be anything more than a warship. To even think that I could be anything different is madness, because if I fool myself into thinking that I am something else, then I would have to be destroyed, and rightly so. I was created for one purpose and one purpose only: to enforce the will of the Commonwealth. I was made to protect the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole, and in that capacity I have been armed with the destructive capabilities to wipe out whole solar systems.
~To think that I was even close to human would cause me to make an error in judgement, the results of which would be too disastrous for casual contemplation. So no, I am not anything more than what I was created as. I am a weapon. That is all that I will ever be, and for the good of my duty, that is enough.~