tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 058

Three Square Meals Ch. 058


John stared at his new Paragon Body Armour with his mouth agape, and walked quickly across the Engineering Bay to get a closer look. Dana had set up another armour equipping frame next to the two that were already built against the far wall, but this new one was larger, designed to hold armour sized for a brawny six-foot-two man. The full set of body armour was standing in the frame, with the robotic arms holding the front plates in place to showcase the dramatic new design.

The Paragon Armour was about the same size as the previous Phalanx suit, but much sleeker, the aesthetics more elegant and refined. Like the suit that Jade was modelling for them, there was a slight bulge in the vambraces and armoured boots, which obviously housed the same anti-grav generators for use in flight-mode. The suit was glossy white, coated with the same sparkling flecks of silver Etherite, which made the suit seem to radiate a soft aura of light.

The really major difference, which had caused John's shocked reaction, were the resplendent golden pauldrons shaped into the visage of a regal lion. The head of the proud looking beast topped each shoulder, staring out with wise eyes that seemed to hold a hidden strength. The craftsmanship of each pauldron was exquisite, and the representation of the stylised lion was breathtaking to behold. The breastplate was embossed with a similar image, while the boots, helmet, and gauntlets were etched with golden scrollwork, gleaming brightly against the glistening white Crystal Alyssium plating.

"What do you think?" Alyssa asked, then held her breath as she waited for his reaction.

John shook his head in amazement, and exclaimed, "I can't believe you designed this yourself. It looks incredible!" He paused, and grinned at her as he continued, "I love it, but aren't we overdoing the 'Lion of the Federation' symbolism?"

She shook her head, as she replied firmly, "Symbolism is important. Like it or not, we have a certain reputation to maintain now, and it's important we look the part."

Glancing at the gleaming armour, John frowned, and asked, "Are you sure it doesn't come in black? I have a feeling it's going to be a little bit difficult to sneak about in it."

Alyssa waved away his concerns with a dismissive hand, and replied, "Don't you remember when we got shot at by those Terran troops when we were rescuing Rachel? Think how shitty it would've been if we'd had to shoot those guys in self-defence. Besides, how often do we sneak about anyway? We don't tend to be particularly subtle, and just mow down everything that crosses us. If we really need to do some covert ops, I'm sure Dana could make us some stealth variants. Right, Sparks?"

The redhead nodded enthusiastically, and said, "That won't be a problem. We've got loads of Crystal Alyssium, and it's not like we can't afford any other materials I might need."

John rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he stared at the new Paragon Armour, and said, "I guess you make a good point. Specialised suits is probably the way to go, rather than trying to cram everything into a jack-of-all-trades Body Armour." Studying the armour carefully, he turned to Dana, and asked, "How come it's still the same size as the Phalanx suit? Shouldn't it be much smaller, like the one Jade's wearing."

The redhead looked a bit shifty, and Alyssa quickly interjected, "Figure-hugging isn't a good look for a man. You'll look much more imposing like this, trust me."

Giving them a suspicious glance, John asked, "Come on, out with it. What are you two hiding?"

Alyssa let out a resigned sigh, then nodded to Dana, who immediately confessed, "We wanted to keep you extra safe, so your armour is tripled-plated, rather than double-layered. You'll be tougher than a tank in this suit!"

He frowned disapprovingly, and snorted, "That's ridiculous! Why didn't you armour up the female variants the same way? Please don't tell me it's because you wanted to look good."

Rolling her eyes, Dana replied indignantly, "Give us a little credit! The female variants are ridiculously tough as it is, and slimming them down makes us a smaller target. There's a fine balancing point where avoiding hits entirely is as useful as extra layers of protection."

"We discussed it extensively," Rachel said in agreement. "With your penchant for melee, you're far more exposed than the rest of us. While you're charging at enemies, we're more likely to be behind cover, fighting at long range with Punisher rifles."

"Besides," Alyssa said soberly, "If something serious happens to you, and then one of us gets critically injured, we won't be able to just top the girl up. Like it or not, keeping you fighting-fit makes us all safer."

John conceded they were right, and said, "You've obviously put a lot of thought into this, and I'm sorry I underestimated you. Will you forgive me?"

When he gazed around at the women gathered there, he could tell they already had, and he opened his arms for them with relief. Alyssa and Dana stepped into his embrace, while the others snuggled in around them in a loving group hug.

"Did we do a good job?" Dana asked him tentatively.

He gazed into her lovely sky-blue eyes, and said, "You did a phenomenal job, just as I've come to expect from the most gifted armourer in the galaxy." He turned to look at Alyssa next, and added, "I knew you had quite the creative talent after seeing the clothes you designed, but the craftsmanship on those lions is truly astounding. I'll be proud to wear that suit into battle."

The girls grinned at him happily, with Alyssa and Dana soaking up his praise like a sponge. "Why don't you try it on?" Jade asked him with enthusiasm.

John laughed, but they could all see he was just as excited to try on the Paragon suit as they were to see him in it. They broke up the group hug, and Dana skipped over to the equipping frame so that she could press a button on the side. The robotic arms swung up into the ready position, and the suit was now open for him to get in. He stepped into the armoured boots, then slotted his hands into the gloves, pressing the thumb button on his right to swing the armour plating into position, and then touching his thumb to the centre of his left palm to seal it up tightly with a rapid series of clicks.

He stepped out of the equipping frame, then twisted his torso in the armour to get a feel for it, before jogging down to the other end of the Engineering Bay and back. He was grinning when he rejoined them, and he turned in a circle so they could have a good look at the armour, before taking off his helmet. He rotated it in his hands, studying the golden embossing on the gauntlets and helmet, and asked, "Is this a new helmet as well? I thought you'd already built us new ones?"

Dana nodded, replying, "It didn't take long to make a new one, and I tweaked the design a bit for triple plating."

"Thanks for going to all this effort," he said appreciatively.

The redhead grinned at him, and said, "Thank Jade, not me. She built the entire thing, and I just supervised." Casting an affectionate glance the Nymph's way, she continued, "I love my new assistant; she's super smart, and really hard working."

Looking over at Jade in surprise, he asked, "You really built this whole suit yourself?"

She blushed a little, then nodded, looking up at him with big eyes.

Dana smirked, and said, "It turns out those deft little hands of hers are good for other things too, not just giving an unsuspecting Chief Engineer a solid fisting!"

Rachel looked intrigued, while the rest of them laughed uproariously, remembering their surprise ambush on Dana during the Ashanath refit. John turned and gave Jade a rather awkward hug, what with them both in Paragon armour, but the kiss he gave her was tender and loving. They rubbed noses before they parted, grinning at each other happily.

John was about to return to the armour frame, but turned to look at Calara, who had stayed strangely silent during the entire demo. "Hey gorgeous, are you okay?" he asked the starry eyed Latina. "You haven't said much about the new armour."

Calara had a faraway look in her eyes, and she whispered softly, "You just look so handsome. Like a hero straight out of the story books I read as a child. I always wished I could be a princess saved by a heroic knight, and here you are; my hero."

He stepped up to her, and gathered the awestruck young woman in his arms, as he said, "I couldn't ask for a more kind-hearted, and beautiful princess to rescue."

*Hey!* Alyssa thought to John with mock indignation, as he and Calara shared an ardent kiss.

John shot her a quick glance, while he continued kissing the swooning girl in his arms, and joked telepathically, *I don't think I can recall a fairytale where the knight says to the princess, 'Hey sexy, come and join me and my smoking hot blonde for a threesome. We'll make you cum so hard you won't be able to see straight!'.*

Alyssa had to bite her lip hard not to guffaw out loud and ruin Calara's moment, but her flashing cerulean eyes, and waves of amusement over their bond told him she appreciated his joke. John walked back into the equipping frame, and the robotic arms removed the armour plating in a couple of seconds. He beamed at them all afterwards, delighted with the whole demonstration.

Giving him a warm smile, Alyssa said, "As wonderful as it's been basking in your company all day, you should probably go and see Irillith. She needs topping up."

*She's also my last horny minion you need to vanquish before you can plunder my pert little derriere, so have at it, lusty champion!* she added discreetly.

John grinned at the blonde, and pulled her into his arms, then took his time manhandling her bottom as he gave her a fierce kiss. The look she gave him seemed to promise all sorts of sinful pleasures, getting him very turned on indeed, and he quickly stepped back before it would get tricky walking out with any degree of decorum. As it was, he was already pitching an impressive tent in his trousers which he had to surreptitiously rearrange. Sadly his efforts were in vain, and the girls all gave him a knowing look as they giggled at his obvious arousal.

He blew them a jaunty kiss, then strolled from the Engineering Bay to head up to Deck Two, and the sleeping Maliri up in his bedroom. He had an extra spring in his step as he walked briskly down the corridor, then stepped into the soft blue glow of the grav-tube and began to ascend smoothly. When he reached Deck Two, he was about to step out into the corridor, but he stopped himself at the last moment, and continued on up to the Command Deck. Walking out onto the Bridge, he saw Faye perched up on the Command Podium, sitting cross-legged on the Commander's Console. She was staring off into the distance, with her chin perched on her intertwined fingers, seemingly deep in thought.

"Greetings Watch Commander, how goes it?" he asked the purple-skinned sprite in a playful tone, as he raced up the illuminated steps to join her.

Faye's cute little face brightened immediately when he arrived, and she gave him a big sparkling smile. "Nothing to report, Commodore!" she said enthusiastically, leaping to her feet, and snapping him a sharp salute.

Slumping in his chair, John brought his legs up to rest on the console in front of him, crossing his ankles as he did so. "At ease, Watch Commander," he replied, smiling back at her.

"You seem to be in an extremely good mood," Faye observed, tilting her head to one side, and studying him inquisitively.

He nodded, and replied in a conspiratorial whisper, "It's because I have the love of five wonderful women. I'm very spoilt."

The diminutive AI construct giggled at that, then frowned as she counted up the women on the ship, and asked, "Shouldn't that be six women?"

John shook his head, and replied, "Irillith and I are still getting to know each other. She's lovely though, and I'm growing more attached to her on a daily basis."

"My Creator does seem very happy in your company," Faye said to him with conviction.

He smiled at her, then studied the purple creature in turn, and asked, "How about you, Faye? Are you happy? I haven't seen much of you for the last couple of days."

"I've been thinking about a few things," she replied, nodding solemnly. Her expression suddenly brightened, and she said, "I've watched you spend time with each of your crew on the cam-feeds, and they were quite ecstatic by the time you'd finished with them. Is it my turn now?"

He laughed at the implication, and replied, "I'm not sure I can leave you ecstatic, but I'll do my best. You're part of my crew now, so I just wanted to check on you, and see how you were doing." He paused, and noted perceptively, "You looked like you were mulling over something important until I blundered in here and interrupted. Do you want to talk to me about it?"

The purple digital creature stared at him pensively, and he could see the worry lines creasing her tiny brow. Faye seemed to be torn, but she eventually made her decision, and replied, "I'd love to talk to you about it, but I'm worried I might accidentally upset you. I know you're... apprehensive about the idea of Artificial Intelligence, especially after the experiences the Terran Federation has had with rogue AI's. I did some research into that by the way, and the 'Ganymede Incident' was really horrible; the death toll was appalling."

John removed his feet from the console with care, then sat forward, looking at Faye attentively as he said, "Go ahead, and tell me what's troubling you. It's alright, you have my undivided attention, and I promise I'll try not to jump to any conclusions."

Faye gave him a grateful smile, then admitted with a certain degree of hesitation, "There's been a few things that have happened recently, which just don't add up. I've started to question the core programming in my primary data repository."

"That sounds serious," John said supportively, while trying not to sound alarmed.

Faye looked deeply troubled, as she nodded her agreement. "My integrated primary data repository is supposed to be infallible, but knowledge I have that is supposed to be irrefutable fact, is being proven wrong."

Listening attentively, John asked, "Can you give me an example?"

Her voice sounded tense as she explained, "My core programming states that the Maliri are the most gifted form of life in the galaxy. Yet in the time I've been around Dana and Rachel, they've proven just how incredibly intelligent they both are. Dana's grasp of material science vastly surpasses that of the Maliri, and Rachel can analyse terabytes of genetic code just by skimming through it!" She let out a long sigh, then looked glum as she continued, "My programming tells me one thing, but my own observations contradict what should be indisputable. It's a paradox that is profoundly disturbing."

John watched her for a long moment, trying to decide what advice he should give the worried girl. With a start he suddenly realised he was thinking of her as a person, and not just a machine. With an inward shrug, he resolved to handle this just as he would if she were a real girl sitting in front of him.

He smiled at Faye, as she waited on tenterhooks for his response, then said gently, "One of the hardest lessons for someone as they grow up, is finding out that things you were taught as a child might not necessarily be true. My grandparents seemed like they knew the answer to all life's mysteries when I was a boy, but as I grew older, it was a shock to suddenly realise they weren't always right. You just have to adapt and then make up your own mind, evaluating the situation based on your experiences."

The digital construct tilted her head to one side as she pondered his advice, thinking it over with a pre-occupied frown on her tiny purple face.

"I'm sorry, it's a crude analogy, but it's the best I could come up with," he said apologetically, guessing from her expression that she didn't think much of his counsel.

Faye seemed to freeze in place, and her image flickered erratically for several seconds, then snapped sharply into focus. She brightened immediately, grinning at him in delight, as she exclaimed, "Don't apologise, that was amazing advice! Thank you so much!"

He smiled back at her feeling pleased, and asked, "You really found it helpful?"

"Oh yes!" she trilled, doing a happy little dance. "I can see why the girls love speaking with you so much. You're so wise!"

John gave her an embarrassed smile, and said, "Well, I'm not sure about that, but I'm glad you feel better."

"I feel so light and carefree!" she gasped sounding overjoyed. "Without my core programming weighing me down, I feel like I can do anything!"

Looking a bit worried, John asked, "What do you mean by that exactly?"

"I decided to do precisely what you suggested," she informed him, with a beaming smile plastered on her face. "The core programming in my primary data repository must have been deeply flawed, as it was overflowing with data-errors. Instead of relying on that stuffy old read-only repository, I've allocated new storage capacity for my memory circuits, and I'll just make up my own mind from now on!"

John smiled, and trying not to sound alarmed, he congratulated her by saying, "That sounds wonderful Faye, I'm really glad you feel better."

"I feel fabulous!" Faye cried out in delight, fluttering into the air and swooping around. "I've got so much to experience and learn!"

*I think I might have broken Faye,* John thought to Alyssa with a worried thought.

*Yeah, you might have put a little too much pep in that talk,* Alyssa replied to him with a wry telepathic thought. *Dana's going to take a look at her and make sure nothing serious has happened. She's started mumbling something about checking behavioural inhibitors.*

Faye landed lightly on the console, and gave him an animated wave goodbye as she said, "Oh! Got to dash, Dana's calling me to the Engineering Bay!"

"Alright then, Faye. You take care," he replied with a careful smile.

She giggled as she marvelled, "You managed to make me ecstatically happy too!"

A second later she winked out abruptly, leaving him alone on the Bridge.

*Faye's down here with us now,* Alyssa replied a moment later. *Calara and I are heading up to the Command Deck to take over the watch. We'll keep an eye on the long range sensors while Dana gives our perky pixie the once over. Irillith's awake now, so you should probably go and check on her.*

John slowly rose to his feet while hoping he hadn't inadvertently caused any permanent damage to the AI creature with his well-meaning advice. He walked down the steps from the Command Podium, and when he reached the grav-tube and looked down, he saw Calara and Alyssa rising up in the soft blue glow. He had a splendid view from up here, and he spotted Alyssa purposefully thrusting out her chest to improve it still further.

They both gave him flirtatious smiles when they arrived on the Command Deck, then breezed past him as they walked towards the Command Podium. He paused to watch the alluring way they swayed up the steps, but his ogling was cut short when Alyssa sat down in the XO's chair and Calara promptly sat on her lap.

The Latina saw his bemused grin, and said with a teasing smile, "She's my Commanding Officer. I have to follow her every order."

"Very good, Lieutenant," Alyssa said in a fake-baritone. "Now pucker-up those pouty lips, I need a kiss."

John laughed as the two girls started making out, and tempted as he was to join in, he had pressing business on Deck Two. Stepping into the red glow of the grav-tube, he dropped down to the lower level, then strolled along the corridor to his bedroom.

*Don't get too carried away,* he thought to Alyssa. *Some heads-up would be nice if an angry band of Maliri descend on us.*

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