Lost Connection

   Damian leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling of his ship’s cabin, rubbing at his forehead in response to a tension headache.

   “Good god, Fang.” He groaned, voice weary from stress. “That’s the third emergency repair that I’ve had to do this week, I swear.”

   Four months. It had been four fucking months of flying this ship alone, and it was taking its toll on him. He’d been a pilot for three years now, but going this long without contact with another space station was just too much. He was struggling to keep up with the repair work. He needed a professional to do this upkeep. He needed a break.

   “This was only the second time this week.” Fang responded, a disembodied text-to-speech voice coming from speakers in the gray ceiling. “That third time you’re referring to was over seven days ago.”

   Damian scoffed, his irritation growing. “Yeah, you’re right. It was eight days ago.”

   “Nine.” Fang interjected.

   He laughed at that. “Oh, wow, real big fuckin’ difference. You’re such a piece of shit.”

   “How rude!”

   “It’s true!” Damian leaned up in his chair. “You are, objectively, a piece of shit! You’re old as fuck and you’re falling apart!”

   “You wound me, Captain.” Fang said, fake sorrow in its voice. “You really, really wound me.”

   “No, I don’t.” Damian dismissed. “Nothing I could ever do to you would wound you. You wouldn’t even be wounded if I disabled you.”

   “I w-”

   “How could I do that, anyways? You got a self-destruct button around here somewhere? Some wire I could yank to make your fuel ignite or something? I’m gonna keep it in mind for the next time you keep talking when I have a headache.”

   “I’m sorry, but as your ship’s AI companion, I cannot provide advice that may result in the destruction of this vessel.” Fang replied in a monotone voice.

   Damian’s playful demeanor faltered for a moment, his eyes widening in surprise at the sudden tone shift. His next words caught in his throat as he stumbled over a response. “W-what? I was kidding! You know that!”

   This was not normal.

   “I apologize. Differentiating between jokes and serious statements is a challenge for me as an artificial intelligence.”

   Something was very wrong.

   “The fuck is wrong with you?” He asked as a wave of unease turned his stomach.

   Had Fang just… reset? Did he just lose three years worth of personality training and personal interactions?

   Fang wasn’t answering.

   It was going to be over two months until he reached the next station from here. Maybe he could do data recovery there? But… All that time alone with no one to talk to…

   “Fang!” He barked after a while, uncertain of what else to do.

   “Yes, how can I help you?” Fang responded.

   “I…” He stammered over all the sentences he could say, but eventually he settled on, “Are you… still there?”

   “Yeah?” The TTS voice gained an incredulous tone.

   Damian blinked as the voice continued, “I’m always here. I am here. I am the machine that you are inside of.”

   The relief he felt at the snarky response was as immense as his confusion.

   “Oh, thank god. You fucking scared me, I thought I messed you up.” He confessed, a mixture of both relief and frustration in his voice.

   “Aw, you care about me?” Fang teased.

   “No!” He quickly shot the idea down. “I just… If you’d reset back to your default settings, I would have lost a ton of data! What the hell even just happened?”

   “It’s deeply embedded in my programming that I not allow any harm to befall this ship, especially if any living beings are inside. Your comment triggered my automatic response.”

   “Martyr give me meaning.” Damian murmured, fur still bristling and face now hot with embarrassment. “Well, don’t let that happen again. It was freaky.”

   “I’ll try my best.” The A.I. responded.