"What's in the file?" Tam probed as they cruised between the Earth and the moon. In front of them were three bulky transport vessels, loaded down with frozen people.
"Nothing much," Carl replied, clutching the file to his chest, "bits and pieces, you know. Nothing important."
Tam gave him a sideways glance, clearly not convinced, but he said no more on the subject.
After a lengthy silence, Carl asked the question that had been eating away at him for some time. "Tam, what's going to happen to us?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well we can't exactly go back home, can we? Not now that our world's a desert, and an empty one at that. And what's going to happen about the Attackers?"
Tam sighed. "As soon as everyone's on board the Draco we're leaving."
"You're not going to fight?"
"No." Tam gave a wry smile. "Groth's none too happy about that, but they're probably realising we're here and we've got to get away while we can, especially with civilians on board. They can't take over our minds, but it's the humans we're worried about. Sorry, Carl."
"Yeah, well. I was kind of hoping for an epic space battle or something." He shrugged. "Maybe next time. But what's going to happen to us now? Where will we go?"
"Well, the captain says there's a nice colony of organics who didn't want to be uploaded living a few constellations away. I'm sure they'd be happy to let the others stay."
"Oh, wow. Tam, thank you so—hang on! You said 'the others'! What about me?"
Tam grinned, his eyes alight with an anticipation of a sort often seen in scientists. "I've an offer to make you."
Carl rushed into his quarters and carefully placed the precious folder on his desk. He removed the little plastic bag that was nestled among the pages and held it up to the light. Inside it was a tiny computer chip, smaller than his thumbnail. "Not long now, Tau," he whispered. He put Tau's memory chip in a drawer and surveyed his new quarters proudly.
Upon officially joining the crew if the Draco, Carl had been given his own quarters. Instead of the plain, featureless decor of the guest quarters, the walls were a pastel shade of green, which he could change at the mere press of a button if he was so inclined. The room also contained a desk and two puffy sofas—apparently, androids still appreciated comfort.
In the corner was his sleepstation. He ran his hand along the smooth interior, feeling the tiny protrusions which would soon connect with the ports in his back. Tam had said that for a few days after the procedure, he wouldn't want to do anything but sleep.
Carl began making the journey to Tam's lab. Unfortunately, it involved using one of the teleporters.
The sensation wasn't as disorientating as last time, he noticed with a flood of relief. However, the relief ebbed away when he saw the hunched figure gazing out of the window. Carl glanced around for an escape, but there was none.
The figure hadn't noticed him yet. Perhaps if he walked quickly and quietly, with his head held high, and stuck to the opposite wall, he might just be lucky enough to—
"Ah, Wheatley. Been looking for you." Kepler croaked. Carl turned sharply to face the Kepler. What more could the frail old man possibly want from him?
"Mr. Kepler," Carl nodded curtly.
"Please, call me Bruce. I'm not your boss anymore." He smiled sadly. "Carl I just wanted to say that...well...thank you."
Carl eyed him with suspicion. "What for?"
Kepler huffed impatiently, a part of his true personality—at least, the one Carl had seen in person and on television—returning. The shock of waking up on an alien star ship had apparently taken their toll upon his usually superior demeanour. "For getting us here. Flooding the Hibernation Centre with CO2 was brilliant, even I was fooled, and—"
"That was RaMA's idea," Carl interrupted.
Kepler waved a hand dismissively. "No no no, Wheatley. I'm sure he heard you talking about a similar strategy at some point in the past and simply applied it to the situation at hand. Even those awful late-20th Century computers could do that. Anyway, your creation is not the sort of robot that can think for itself. It is not sentient. Surely you must realise that?"
"Mr. Kepler, I think it is safe to say that I am much more acquainted with the inner workings of RaMA's brain than you are. If I say he came up with an original idea, then he did. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am supposed to be meeting someone. Good day."
Kepler gaped at the cyberneticist's retreating figure. Carl had always seemed like such a mild, unflappable man. It appeared, Kepler realised, that he had been wrong about many things.
Tam smiled fondly at the tangle of wires and gleaming metal supports that lay in an organised mess on one of the operating tables. They formed the indistinct shape of a human.
On the other side of the room, Lieutenant Neo was putting the finishing touches to the slimy-looking, semi-transparent sheet which was stretched taut like a drumskin. Soon they would be ready.
Tam thought beck to the first time the procedure had been proposed. How the galaxy had laughed! But he'd showed them. Now they owed him their lives—or their sanity, at least. Not that he'd ever collected payment. Perhaps, one day, he would.
The doors to the laboratory slid open with a faint hiss.
"Ah, Carl. I think we're just about ready for you," said Tam, giving Neo a meaningful nod. She took the hint and left.
Carl tentatively approached the operating table. He gently ran his fingers along a metal strut which would soon be his forearm. He became aware of Tam standing next to him.
"Nervous?" Tam grinned.
"A little bit," Carl admitted, "is it very painful?"
Tam considered this. "A little bit, I suppose. But it shouldn't be too bad, as long as you don't think about it too much. Are you ready?"
Tam shrugged. "Of course, why not? Just lie on the bed there." He indicated a second operating table. It'll take a few hours to transfer you, which will be long enough for me to put you together. His tone had taken on a quiet professionalism. "To you, though, it'll only seem like ten minutes, maximum. You'll be semi-conscious throughout the procedure." Tam began placing small metal patches around Carl's skull.
"See you on the other side then?" Carl managed to say, before he felt an anaesthetic seep through his veins. He slipped into a murky twilight world of ice and fire and star ships and androids. His blurry hallucinations were surrounded by a peculiar pouring sensation, and on occasion it would seem like his visions were being tugged away from him by an invisible hand. He let the unpleasant images slip away without resistance, but some—Tam, Johanne, RaMA, Ramù, Tau—he held on to. He battled the invisible hand for them, and won every time.
Carl suddenly became aware of a cold, metallic sensation in his—everywhere. He felt the twilight brightening into a new day.
He opened his eyes.
A/N: Thank you so so so much to everyone who has read this story until the end, and to everyone who has reviewed! I can't thank you enough :) xxxx