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A New Beginning

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The Tangier Sovereign Orbital Platform was not was Sareh had been expecting. Nat had called it a place full of hackers, hippies and AI Rights folks and the recent news broadcasts kept slandering it as a haven for criminals and terrorists. With that in mind, Sareh had been expecting a platform that was less scrupulously maintained than any other station out there.

But Tangier gleamed, for the most part. There was some graffiti, here and there, but it all seemed to have some artistic merit. Public art, rather than petty vandalism. It livened the place up a bit.

The people, too, were... well, people. Suited up for life in space, moving with all the serious care required in a low-G environment. Not a rowdy band of rogues at all. That said, there were more colorful haircuts, tattoos and unusual piercings than would have been allowed in a corporate environment.

Sareh was almost disappointed. Part of her felt that a wretched hive of scum and villainy should at least have the decency to look like one. Instead, Tangier stubbornly insisted on being a place where people lived.

And not just people, but...

No. No. That was... No. People. Where people lived.

Sareh made her way to the near-Earth-G living quarters in one of Tangier's outer rings. The pull of gravity, no matter how artificial, was pleasantly familiar. Comforting. And she could use some comforting, because she was about to meet perhaps the most notorious woman alive.

Sareh pulled up in front of a black door bearing the tag 'A. Ferrier' in actual, really-there, letters. She took a deep breath, then hit the buzzer. After a moment or two, the door slid open.

Sareh dithered for a while. She'd have preferred a less ambiguous invitation. But the door was open and she couldn't stand outside in the corridor all day. She didn't have too much of a choice, really.

Sareh stepped into what turned out to be a pretty standard living module. One of those prefabricated spaces that had been churned out by the dozens to be slotted into any station's residential quarters. It was bigger than the quarters Sareh had lived in on Tacoma, but not by much. Space was rare in space, and therefore expensive. Even on Tangier, apparently.

The walls of the one-person apparent were mostly covered with pictures of people with cybernetic enhancements. Rather romanticized ones at that, Sareh felt. Every piece seemed to somehow extol the virtues and beauty of man/machine integration. She was actually surprised to see a few real plants in the small cabin. She wouldn't have thought a woman with all that machinery on her walls would care to have any nature around.

The woman herself sat at a low table, a small orange cube floating in the air near her. Amy Ferrier. World's greatest thief since Prometheus, if the news was to be believed. She looked... ordinary, with her messy black hair in a loose ponytail and baggy yellow clothes. Not like a dreaded criminal mastermind at all.

Amy turned slightly in her seat and looked at her. There was something about her eyes that forced Sareh to review her first impression. Here was a woman who would steal fire from the gods. If she had to.

"Well, looks like we've got to cut our game short," Amy said to her floating companion. "Too bad, too. I had a killer hand."

"Really?" the orange cube asked cheerfully. "I thought you were bluffing."

"Did you now?" said Amy. "Shame. Now you'll never find out."

"Aww," said the orange cube.

"Alright, alright, c'mon, we have a guest," Amy said.

"Hi there!" the cube chirped happily. "My name's Minny!"

"And you know I'm Amy," Amy said by way of introduction. "And you are... Sareh, right? Has- Has- something."

"Hasmadi," Sareh supplied. "I'm surprised you know my name."

Amy grinned. "Well, I did visit Tacoma once," she said. "Come, sit down."

Sareh sat down in one of chairs near the low table. Minny thoughtfully hovered out of the way and remained floating over the table.

"You were playing poker?" Sareh asked.

"Oh, yeah," Amy said. "I enjoy a good game once in a while."

"Not really the kind of game you'd think someone would play against an AI," Sareh said. "I believe chess is the traditional choice."

"Chess is just a bit too deterministic," Amy replied. "All an AI's got to do is calculate all possible moves. Too simple for them. With poker, there's always a chance someone might be bluffing. Or is only pretending to bluff. Much more valuable skill for 'em to learn."

"Bluffing is a valuable skill?" Sareh asked.

"Recognizing that a person's stated position and their actual position do not necessarily coincide and determining when they do and when they don't can be really helpful!" Minny supplied happily.

"Every AI's gotta learn that some day," Amy said. "Better if they found out the easy way instead of the hard way, right?"

"I suppose," Sareh admitted.

"Ah, but where are my manners?" Amy said. "Want something to drink? I've got genuinely flavored nutritional fluids."

"Do you have anything apple flavored?" Sareh asked.

"According to the packets," Amy said, tossing Sareh an apple juice drinking bag. "Personally, I think they're lying."

Sareh tore the drinking tube free and took a sip. It was genuinely affordable apple juice for consumption out in space. Which meant that it wasn't apple juice and only sort of tasted like apple to people who'd never actually eaten an apple.

"Anyway," Amy said, sitting back down at the table. "I've got to thank you."

Sareh almost choked on her sort-of apple-flavored drink. "You have to thank me?" she spluttered.

"Sure," said Amy. "I would've done it earlier, but it's pretty hard contacting an corporate cruise liner out by Jupiter. So... thanks. I couldn't have done what I without you."

"You don't need to thank me," Sareh said. "I didn't contact you... or, well, I didn't contact Hassan because of your movement. I just wanted to save a friend."

"That's so sweet!" Minny opined.

Amy smirked. "Sounds like you're part of 'the movement' already."

"I guess," Sareh said. "Now that you mention it, maybe. I wasn't thinking about AI Liberation or anything, I only..."

"Wanted to save a friend," Amy finished.

"Right. And you did. So, really, I have to thank you."

"If you feel you have to," said Amy. "But you really don't."

"Still... thank you."

Amy shrugged indifferently. "Thanks. But you didn't come to Tangier just to thank me, right?"

"No," Sareh said. "Although I did feel it was important to see you first."

"And so you have."

Amy rose from her seat.

"Hey Minny, it must've been days since we last checked our ship's systems. What's say you and I go run a thorough diagnostic?"

"OK!"

Amy walked away from the table, followed eagerly by Minny. She paused just near the threshold.

"You know... Tangier could always use more medical personnel. We might not be as prestigious as Venturis, but on the other hand, we're not Venturis. Just a thought."

With that Amy and Minny were gone, the door closing behind them. Although Sareh had her doubts Minny was really gone. Still, she had a moment of privacy, for now. Or as much privacy as anyone could expect on an orbital platform.

Sareh took a deep breath to steady her nerves.

"ODIN, are you there?"

A pale blue pyramid materialized in the air.

"Hello, Sareh."