quote:Annie Oakley poked Francis in the shoulder. She kept poking him. He ignored her until she finally yelled into his earworm. "Wake up, you bone-lazy priest!" The image of a tiny woman, barely more than a girl, blinked into existence next to Francis' cot, the metal struts and handholds of the dirigible's plain cabin visible through her corseted dress. She held a rifle and wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat over her wavy brown hair.
Annie set her hands on her hips. "I ought to shoot you just to get you out of bed. Need you up. Wireless is playing up with the bees again."
"Your projector isn't working too well either. I don't like my women transparent."
His head throbbed from the cheap Korean sleep app he'd downloaded last night. The constant rumble and occasional bump of the dirigible in flight didn't help. At least the storm had cleared overnight and the sky outside the ship's portals was clear blue.
He looked over to the glass hive on the cabin's far side, tucked next to the control panel. The little black bots were quiescent in the refrigerated chamber. Good. At least Annie had them under control for the moment. He had grown sick of bees landing on his nose at three in the morning. Not that he slept anyway.
"We could take the hive back to Gwair-Sematech," he said groggily. "Have them take a look."
"Lawdy, have you gone soft-headed you God-botherer?"
"I don't even know what that means. Talk like a normal AI for once."
Annie scowled. "Apart from the fact they'd like to kill you, Gwair-Sematech is in San Francisco, and we're about a thousand miles from there. What did you take last night?"
So she had heard him sub-vocalize his way through the drug applications. He swung his legs over the edge of the cot. "Same dream again."
Every night, the war AI unfolding from the shadows like a cross between a flying python and a chainsaw. Blood and screams from his men. Reeva crouched by a long tray filled with cabbages that glowed with trademarks under the ultraviolet light. The AI snaking around her, blades flashing.
"Thought I'd try something to help me sleep," he said. "Figured I'd confess it later. Still had the nightmare anyway."
"Oh, Padre." Even with her faux Western accent, Annie sounded unbearably sad.
He rubbed his palms into his eyes. "I'll add another sin to my confession. Stimulant applications, please." He stood, the sheets sliding away, and Annie averted her gaze, as if she couldn't see everything he did with her internal cameras.
"No can do. No idea how that cheap Korean junk would interact, and we ain't got time to run proxy simulations. Thirty seconds and I can give you visuals on the little ol' town of Temptation."
Francis pulled on his underpants and then shrugged into his cassock. "You do the praying this time, Annie. Pray that we find a farmer or two with some viable crops left. Or good stores of pre-patent grain. Anything except a town full of dead people, please."