Sid’s got the music playing loudly, and he’s boogieing in his quarters as he gets his outfit on.
He’s mostly undressed, but there’s no chance to actually see anything interesting, because he’s got furniture strategically positioned to cover his naughty bits. All you can see is a bit of an ankle as he pulls on his shapely black pants, a flash of his lean chest as he pulls down his bright red shirt, and a gleam and sparkle as he affixes his insignia to his chest.
“Music, off!” says Sid, and the music stops, and a bit later the boogieing follows.
And the door slides open and Sid heads out to work.
“You’re security on a delicate operation,” says the Captain.
“The natives of this planet think the meaning of their life is determined by the number of beads on the ‘soul necklaces’ they wear. The AIs think that they might just be right. The tech girls might have managed to duplicate the soul beads in the lab, but it’s impossible to know until one of the natives tries one on. So you’re going to help transport a box of the beads to our chieftain ally Bernice Ma’ala’sul.”
Sid snaps his heels together sharply and salutes. Then he heads down to the planet with a gun on his hip and a box under his arm.
He lands a bit before sunset, in a lightly forested region, on the planet’s face.
He’s met by Christine. She shows him her ID so he knows she’s the native liaison. There are also another couple of natives around.
“Hey,” says Sid.
“Hey,” Christine says.
She’s got a scanty outfit and a bead necklace on. There are seven beads on her necklace. Each is translucent white and glowing from within.
She’s staring at the box.
“Are those . . . them?” she says.
“Yup!” says Sid. “It’s a box full of meaning.”
He looks at her.
“Which, you know,” he says, “I’d think pretty silly, if the AIs weren’t going for it.”
Christine flushes slightly.
“It’s not silly,” she says. “You just wouldn’t understand, that’s all.”
Sid raises an eyebrow. “They’re just beads,” he says.
“It’s like this,” she says. “Maybe you all in your majestic space fleet get your meaning from life and exploration and stuff. And that’s all well and good. But I don’t. No one’s ever going to care about my life. It doesn’t make a difference. But I’ve got seven beads. Now that means something. Look at those two. They’ve only got a couple of beads. Why, I’m not sure they even have names.”
One of the other natives mumbles something.
Sid scratches behind his own ear.
“That’s not quite—”
“I’d like my life to matter,” admits Christine. “I mean, it would be cool if I were more than just seven-bead liaison in a scanty native outfit. Just like maybe you’d like it if somebody cared about the color of the shirt you wear, or your name, or your history.”
Sid’s mouth has set into a line.
“But I don’t,” says Christine. “It doesn’t matter. That’s how you and me are different. Your life means something, and your clothing doesn’t, while my beads—well, if this goes well, you know, I could wind up with eight.”
“My life doesn’t matter,” Sid grits out.
“Never mind,” says Sid, curtly. He turns towards the horizon, and the red of his shirt burns like the setting sun. “Let’s go.”
“If your life doesn’t matter,” presses Christine, “how can you be in the fleet? I thought you people cared about stuff like that.”
Sid shakes his head. He rubs at his insignia. He says, “I’m just security. Nobody cares about my life.”
“. . . Oh,” says Christine.
They walk in silence across the planet’s face.
“Where are we going, anyway?” says Sid.
Christine giggles a little.
“You’re heading the right direction,” she says. “So I thought you knew. To the temple of the chief.”
She points. There’s a ziggurat in the distance, visible above the trees.
“Pretty big temple for a girl named Bernice,” Sid says.
“She’s so numinous,” sighs Christine. Then there’s a brilliant spark in Christine’s eyes as she thinks about it. “And wow. If those beads work out for her, she’ll be like the greatest god ever.”
“Huh,” says Sid.
They walk towards the temple.
“That’s a good cause,” says Sid. “It’s worth fighting for. I mean, if this works, our ally on the planet will transcend— but—”
“Will she get superpowers? I mean, like, omnipotence and stuff? ‘Cause that’s usually bad, even if it seems good at first.”
Christine flails her hands about, looking for a way to explain. “Grace,” Christine says. “She’ll get grace and she’ll touch us all with it. She’ll change what things are. —But not omnipotence.”
“Good,” says Sid.
There’s a laser blast. One, maybe two, of the other natives fall.
Sid turns around.
“What the hell?”
There’s a man advancing on them. He’s got a gun in his hand. “I’ll take that box, Sid,” he says.
Sid drops the box. He goes for his gun. But he’s not fast enough. The laser hits him. Sid’s outline flares with light and then he’s gone.
Christine backs away, slowly.
“You’re some kind of renegade admiral, aren’t you?” she says. “Don’t you know what you’ve done? Your people become valueless when you die!”
But the renegade admiral only snorts.
“He’s a redshirt.”
“They’re not like you or me, you know,” says the admiral, seizing the box, putting it under his arm. “They don’t get their meaning from life.”
“Oh,” says Christine.
“They’re the dying kind.”