Mirelle sat patiently as Weyland slid the neural probe out of her head and read through the results. The captain had asked him to do an extra exam on her before they headed to the Sol system. He wasn’t sure why, exactly. Her neurological readouts were normal–or rather, they were wildly outside the realm of what should be possible, but they were within the range of normal for her.
Weyland tried to tell her as much. She listened attentively, a little furrow forming between her brows as he attempted to explain. “I don’t understand what the problem is,” she said. “Everyone’s making a big deal out of nothing special.”
“I don’t understand either,” Weyland admitted. “I’ll tell Captain Dysart you’re not putting yourself at any risk by continuing to work.”
He dismantled the equipment he’d been using and placed the metal spike of the neural probe into the autoclave for sterilization. Mirelle lingered in his lab, a few steps behind him, watching as he broke the seal on a fresh set of pipettes. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m testing the nutritional content of the fluid in the meat vats,” Weyland told her.
“Can I watch?” When he looked at her, confused, she frowned again. “I’m sorry if I’m intruding.”
“It’s fine,” Weyland said. It wasn’t that he minded the company. The rest of the crew just didn’t seem to enjoy hanging out in his lab, especially when he was working on the meat vats.
He cracked open a vat and began taking samples. Mirelle leaned over, staring down into the clear liquid with fascination. The mass in this vat was well-defined, nearly ready for harvesting. Its cells had blossomed up out of the original sample, dividing and growing without limits. “I didn’t think it would look like that,” she said.
“What did you think it would look like?”
“Like dinner, I guess, in nice little cuts. But look, it’s got veins” The mass in the vat twitched. She jumped back and yelped. “It’s moving!”
“It’s muscle tissue. It’s supposed to move, and it needs blood flow so it doesn’t die.” Weyland finished collecting his samples and closed the lid on the vat. When he looked up, Mirelle’s face was twisted up in an expression that Weyland recognized as pain. She didn’t look injured. “Are you all right?”
“It’s just–you must think I’m stupid for not knowing what meat looks like.” She touched the side of her head with two fingers. “I must have known once, but I can’t remember anymore.”
“Not knowing something yet doesn’t make you stupid,” Weyland said. “There are plenty of things I don’t know.”
“Oh, please. You’re a doctor. You know everything important.”
“I don’t know what food is supposed to taste like,” Weyland said.
Mirelle looked at him, her lips slightly parted, the furrow back between her brows. Weyland met her gaze impassively. He felt hot shame twisting in his gut, the fear that once again he’d asked the wrong question, that he’d given the game away. “I’ve tried food I haven’t cooked,” he said, trying to explain. “It tastes better than what I make. I don’t understand why. I tried using spices and the rest of the crew just got mad and said it made the food hurt too much to eat. Except for Xrrt, who doesn’t have the ability to detect capsaicin.”
Mirelle said, “Did you know Sera and Jianyu have a bet about you?”
“No, I didn’t know that.” Weyland moved on to the next vat, unscrewing the lid and taking samples. “What are they betting on?”
“They’re trying to figure out your story. Who you really are.” He fumbled a pipette. It bobbed on the surface of the liquid, spinning in a lazy circle. “I think it’s a mean thing to do to someone who’s supposed to be your friend.”
“What do they think about me?” The anxiety intensified, a burning curl of fear right through the core of him. He’d have to leave if they found out. He wasn’t sure if they’d want him to stay. He wasn’t sure if it would be safe for him to stay, if they knew the truth.
“Sera thinks you’re a robot,” Mirelle said. “I think that’s dumb, but she says she’s met some advanced robots and nobody could tell the difference.”
Relief flooded over him, the sensation so strong it made his knees feel weak. He fished the pipette out and got back to work. “That’s an interesting theory. Did she have an explanation for that time I broke my leg right in front of her?”
“I don’t think Sera’s all that smart.” Mirelle drifted over to one of the smallest vats, the one Weyland had carefully left unlabelled. He stopped taking samples to watch her, but she just ran her hands over the metal surface of the sealed tank. “Sometimes I think I don’t like her all that much.”
“I thought the two of you were supposed to be best friends,” Weyland said. “I thought she was your mother.”
Mirelle tapped the side of her head again. “We were best friends. But now I can’t remember anything about that. And she took care of me, but–I’m not sure I want to end up like her.”
“I get it,” Weyland said. “You want to decide who to be on your own.”
“Exactly.” She smiled. Weyland was beginning to appreciate the fact that not all smiles were the same. Hers was open and sweet, her eyes crinkling up at the corners. Weyland could get used to being smiled at like that. He moved on to the next vat, barely paying attention to what he was doing. He didn’t have to focus on the work at all. His hands just moved, guided by memories he couldn’t consciously recall.