“Fifteen months of service, and where do they put me?” The frustrated voice crackled out of the radio.
Sighing, Ebriette paused in their work, hanging on to the metal latticework of the communication tower with one hand and increasing the volume on the receiver. “Let me guess, Milo. ‘Out in the middle of an ocean’.” Their reply was dripping with as much sarcasm as they could muster through the thin clinging film of the high-altitude-breathing-apparatus; or as the insufferable goon in charge of training had cheerfully explained, HAPA.
“Out in the middle of some godforsaken ocean, on a ship that barely floats on its good days. But not just any ocean; no, they put me in an ocean on Tau Ceti D, where the atmosphere is almost like Earth’s, in the same way Spam is almost like meat.”
Milo’s ranting continued on as another gust of wind buffeted the tower, and Ebriette continued ignoring him as they worked on securing new grounding wires to the mid-ocean transmitter, ratcheting bolts tight in winds of over twenty knots. The air itself was muggy and thick with humidity, as though someone had aimed a hose at them and it was vaporizing mid-flight; it did nothing to help the creaking, swaying metal they clung to high above the steady waves below.
“Bri? You listening up there, or did you pass out again?”
Bri clicked their tongue and glared at the radio, giving a roll of their shoulders. “Listen, Milo. I’ve been up here for six hours without a break, haven’t had enough water in an environment that is literally made of the stuff, and am overworked to the point of passing out again eight-hundred-some meters in the air. So please, can the chatter for a bit while I work?” They wobbled, vision blurring at the corners, but caught themselves on their safety latch. “Because if I have to listen to you bitch about being down there in your nice comfy chair out of the wind one minute longer, I am going to detach from this tower and elbow drop you to the engine deck.”
Crackling silence filled the void that followed, and Bri was reaching for their drill to start the next part of their job as a commanding voice crowed over the radio. “Technical Sgt. Reddy. Please abstain from any activities that would injure yourself or other crew members while on duty.”
A sly smirk peaked a corner of Bri’s mouth. “Affirmative, Garrison.”
The old AI that ran the Navy vessel Sojourn was known to be vigilant to the point of obsolescence, and obedient to a fault. But every AI also tended to have a quirk, and Garrison’s was a penchant for deadpan joke delivery. Bri thought it might even enjoy it, to some degree, but most people said that was because they were a techie and applied human qualities to most machinery and systems. So to Bri, it sounded like Garrison was being snarky.
The day before, Lt. Berkins caught Bri machining a new arm for a deck service bot because it had requested something more “versatile” to communicate with the other crewmembers. The issue was that the bot had been in the process of learning certain hand gestures not considered standard protocol; after stifling a giggle, Bri had to explain to the lieutenant that if the other organics on-board could use their appendages to communicate, it was within the statute of Robotic & Machine Rights that a deckbot could flip someone off.
Bri’s current position of “Tower Monkey”, as Milo put it, could be linked to this sequence of events.
After another hour of securing and tightening lines, Ebriette finally reached the top of the mast, doing last-minute checks on lighting indicators and solar panels. Tau Ceti D was in orbit around an O-class star, and as it began to set over the watery horizon, the oceans were aglow with purple-blue light, reflecting in patterns unimaginable to people from Bri’s home planet of Getta 9. The shadows crawled along the solitary island fifty klicks northwest, colouring it neon-black and setting the top of the hill aflame with indigo hues. Bri took a moment to soak in the majesty of it through their tinted lenses, knowing it would be another three “standard” cycles (Amalgamated Special Forces standard time, not planetary standards) before the sun rose again.
Then it suddenly occured to them that there weren’t supposed to be any landmasses near here, and this one was too big for Garrison to have missed. This island was significant enough that even a passing sat-drone should have spotted it.
“Milo?” Bri whispered, then shook their head and snatched the radio from their vest. “Milo! Garrison, report!”
“What, what?! Jeez, Bri, I swear, you get so-“
“Milo, shut up and listen. There’s an island out here that shouldn’t be.”
The seconds of silence froze their heart in place.
“…huh…Garrison, confirm, please?”
“Confirmed, Cpl. Jones. There is an island on our scanner that was not scanned previously. It is 51.4 kilometers north-northwest of our position and closing.”
“Wait, closing?” Bri’s voice wavered incredulously, their gaze shifting between the ship below and the island. “Fuck me, it is moving. Milo, get the lieutenant.”