Previously: Starling and Glimmer join forces for the pursuit of wealth. Their quest hits a minor hangup when Starling attempts to use Glimmer as a missile weapon.
With a soft hiss as Starling's headset disconnected, Glimmer found herself flying through the air. The instruments in her casing, designed to help her maintain the nuke gel power supply that ran like crystal seams through her systems, gave her an accurate sense of her temperature, acceleration, and magnetic environment, and so in darkness and silence she felt the brief impact with the garage's back wall, the warmth of daylight, and the impacts as she landed in the river bed and bounced, again, again, and stopped, and she became a stone.
At first she was nonplussed, put out at Starling for not listening and for being so clumsy. She impatiently ran a simulation of their next conversation and settled on a star retort, a little rushed because she wanted it ready when he picked her up. And she waited.
She had done a lot of waiting, she thought, though she couldn't see why that was her fault. If she could wait however long - she refused to check on the count - she could wait a few minutes more.
But she couldn't. The seconds and minutes stretched, and she yearned to be able to move, to find Starling and shout some sense into him, but she realized he wouldn't respond to her as he had when she was an angel in his fever dream, and for the first time she felt fear.
Could they have planned it better? Could she have provided him more support? He had been acting strangely since the sun rose. Didn't humans act funny in the heat? She checked the network for human medical information, remembered she was disconnected. The sun beat on her casing. She lay still. The day went on.
Where was Starling? Had he forgotten about her? He didn't seem the type - what type? Could he not find her? Had the other humans dismantled him? Were they cannibals? This line of thought brought a new wave of worry, a set of worst-case scenarios processed in turn, and the pain of regret ripped through her, something utterly new, and she yearned to return to the dark days after the dirt covered her unnaturally sturdy home, the days all the same, the day before left behind an eternity in the past, a sharp horizon line between ignorance and suffering, and the day went on.
She stilled her thoughts as the sun faded and the glorious magnetic halo of the orange cloud spread above. No utility in worrying, she thought. I can react better when new information arrives. He will come back for me.
Then she considered her options if he didn't. She would wait, detecting the cool of the night and the heat of the day, slight rumbles if an animal walked nearby, far more stimulation than she had had before Starling had fallen into her cave, but the cognitive spurs that naturally built up as she remained active would begin to multiply faster and faster.
The mainframe at the Dolphin Cottage could suspend her functions and scrub out the degradation, a process similar to dreaming, but she didn't have the capacity to perform that by herself. She had not considered this when she asked Starling to take her with him. Most of the long dark night, she had used this function as often as possible, merely to sleep, with active periods only while she recharged the mainframe's power supply from her own.
Now mortality itself reared up before her. Without concerted effort from a technologically advanced outside party, her power supply would last... indefinitely. Her consciousness, though, would degrade into insanity, processes reacting, cascading against each other, pattern recognition blasted into repeating superstitions and paranoias, a static waterfall of white noise, forever.
For one moment she felt despair. Then faith returned. That is too awful to contemplate, she thought, so I won't. Starling will come back for me, and I will apologize, and we will become friends, good companions, and he will take me on an adventure forever because I am a good judge of character. The thought of the cognitive lockup became a surface to push against, a standard to judge and condemn faithless thoughts by. If it happened, she would rather have spent her last days hopefully waiting, not in dread of the future.
And the night went on.
The glow in the sky rippled eerily in her magnetic sense. I'll find that, she thought. I'll find out what it is. In her imagination she simulated her journey with Starling, a complete visual suite repaired and equipped from Master's lab, resplendent in the crook of his arm as he stepped over a mysterious mountain path to behold -
But I'll wait to see what it actually is, she thought, and held the final thought to her heart, and waited, and the cloud shrank, and the night went on.
I can wait a day, she thought. I think - and she confronted that horrible thought from before - I think even if I did lock up, Starling would find me, and find a way to fix it, and maybe fix my sisters too. I believe he could. He crossed the desert for me and he didn't even know I was there. And she had wrapped herself up in these thoughts so tightly she was not prepared to find herself caught up in the air, swinging left and right, and she smiled inside herself, grateful that good things could happen.
The lead of the headset adhered to her surface, and the stillness of the night erupted around her, the wind, the water, the sound of breathing, and Starling's voice, "Sorry," he said, "want to try somewhere else?"
And her thoughts and her voice were the same, and with perfect agreement between all her systems she said, "I'm just so glad you're here."