Artie’s legs worked again by noon and Elder Stow let her get up to join everyone around the lunch fire. Alexis and Boston got some fairy weave and made her some clothes. Her gray uniform had actually been a coloring of her flesh, but now that she had changed the color to a nice copper tone and developed some nice ‘lumps of fat’, as they were calling them, the women knew she needed to cover up. Artie did not mind, and she was amazed to discover she could shape and color the fairy weave clothing with a mere word. Meanwhile, they had to teach her how to sit so she didn’t send the wrong message.
Mingus examined her with his mind magic, and explained. “Her mind is well organized and not subject to stray, frivolous, human-like thoughts. She has compartmentalized memory and thinking, though I cannot say what parts may have been damaged in the accident. Because of that, I feel it is safer to have her change her clothing with verbal commands rather than with her mere thoughts.”
Artie ate some of everything, and said everything tasted wonderful. “I ate only paste before, and it had little flavor. This food has mostly extra, unnecessary elements that will pass from my system, but since I have arranged the sensors in my mouth, tongue and nose, and reworked them to imitate your human sensations, the taste and smell makes it worthwhile. I smelled it before it was ready and it made me feel hungry?” She wanted to be sure she used the word correctly. The women nodded.
“To be honest,” Mingus spoke in a very flat tone of voice. “Alexis is the most passable cook. My cooking is poor, this beast is tough, and the greens are wilted. Someday, you might taste some real cooking—some real food and then you will be amazed.”
“Father, it is fine,” Alexis said.
“We do the best we can with what we have, but none of us is perfect,” Lincoln added.
“That is certain,” Mingus said with a hard look at Lincoln. Then he changed his mind. “Sorry. Old habit.”
“Me too,” Lincoln said with a look at Mingus, but without explanation.
“Well, I am a long way from perfect,” Boston said, a bit loud, like she wanted to ease the tension.
Katie turned to Artie. “You wanted to say something?”
“My judgment is flawed,” Artie said, like a confession. She looked down at the fire as she spoke. “I found myself behind the enemy line and should have returned to my line, but I thought to kill the Pendascotti on the ground before they reached my…my people, but three Pendascotti ships tracked me and I was shot down before I could do much.”
“Blobs,” Lockhart said.
“We call them blobs,” Katie explained, and smiled her support.
“Blobs,” Artie repeated before she continued. “I am sorry I am not perfect either. Perhaps you should not trust my judgment.”
“No. Not at all. It doesn’t mean that.” Everyone said
“No one is perfect,” Lincoln said.
“We have all sinned and fallen short,” Boston added, but looked pensive about that thought.
“That just shows you are human,” Katie began.
“A person,” Mingus interrupted. “Even if you are not a human person.”
“Your own person,” Alexis continued. “Flawed like every other person in the universe.”
“That is what you get for being alive,” Decker added.
“You are self-aware, intelligent, and just as capable of making mistakes as anyone else,” Elder Stow concluded.
“Perhaps you could ride with me,” Katie suggested. She smiled again, but looked at Elder Stow.
“I suppose that would be all right,” he said. “But there are some further adjustments I would like to make before dark, so please keep that in mind.” He turned to Artie. “And if you feel something is not right or systems may be shutting down, say something right away, and we will stop and have a look.”
“Hold on to the horse with your knees, but not too tight,” Katie explained. “And hold on to me around the middle, but again, not too tight. I can be damaged with too much pressure.”
“I would never hurt you,” Artie said. “I would never hurt any of you. You saved my life.”
Katie nodded. There was so much to talk about and explain about human life. She hardly knew where to start, but they had no trouble talking all afternoon.
By the time the sun went down, Elder Stow said he fixed and adjusted everything he could. He said he would not mind if the Kairos, maybe Martok took a look at her. She was a different form than any he ever worked on. He saw where many of her systems were poorly designed—almost jury-rigged. She was missing a number of standard systems in more advanced androids.
“Sort of like trying to build a jet out of a steam engine,” he said, putting it in a way the others might grasp. “Still, I suppose it is state of the art for the Anazi.”
“God willing, we can relax this evening,” Decker said, but it was not to be.
That evening, Artie asked lots of questions. They mainly focused on things Alexis told her the night before. She was particularly having a hard time grasping the difference between good and evil. She tended to think in very black and white terms.
“Evil is the opposite of good,” Lockhart tried, though he knew that did not really answer the question.
“Evil is the absence of good,” Lincoln tried. “Like life is a good thing and evil would be taking away that life.”
“Like killing?” Artie asked, and everyone heard the distress in her voice even if she did not recognize the feeling in herself.
“It isn’t that simple.” Mingus spoke up. “People die for all sorts of reasons. No one lives forever. When people die of natural causes, no one honestly calls that evil. People die from accidents and disease, and people say it is unfortunate, a shame, and wrong, but no one really says evil. Sometimes when people who are in great pain die, people call it a mercy or a blessing. Evil requires thought and choice, but even when life is taken by thought and choice, it is not necessarily evil. Sometimes, people have to defend themselves and sometimes that means killing, as has happened to us many times in this journey.”
“So, what then is evil?” Artie was concerned to learn.
“Evil is the rebellion against the good,” Mingus explained. “Where there is life, evil wants death. Where there is light, evil wants darkness. Where there is something, evil wants nothing. Where there is order, evil wants chaos.”
“Like the Blobs,” Artie suggested. “They rebel against right order. They are evil.”
“Not necessarily,” Alexis said. “The Blobs might not want Anazi order, but they may have a different order of their own. They may want freedom and they may see the Anazi order as an attempt to impose slavery on them.”
“Freedom is a good thing,” Boston said. “And Alexis, you almost sounded like a conservative.” Alexis made a disgusted face at that thought. She worked hard to gain her liberal card.
“Freedom is deciding for yourself what you will do, where you will go, and who you will do it with,” Katie suggested, and looked at Lockhart.
“Where there is freedom, evil imposes slavery,” Lockhart said, as a kind of non-answer to whatever secret passed between them.
“I am confused,” Artie admitted, and she did not question the word.
“It is both simple and complex,” Mingus spoke again. “We all make choices, sometimes every minute of every day.”
“I choose freedom,” Artie said, quickly.
“We all choose freedom,” Mingus agreed. “But mostly the choices are not that obvious. Sometimes we must choose between two goods, or the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, there are many options, and it isn’t always obvious which is the good, right and true way to go. Sometimes, people choose evil without meaning to, or innocently. Of course, then the mind finds a way to justify our choice so we don’t think of it as evil. But it is what it is…” Mingus let his voice trail off as he looked at Alexis. He kidnapped her twice, and both times justified his choice in his mind, though there was no justifying it. He felt terrible.
“I need to sleep. Sleep is a good thing,” Decker said, and things broke up around the fire. People went their own ways and Artie sat for a long time, wondering what kind of choices she might make, and what choices may have been forced on her back when she had no will of her own.
In the morning, she was still sitting there, stirring the fire and wondering.
Katie came over to set the leftovers to cook and to stir up whatever substitute they had for morning coffee. “Have you been sitting here all night?” Artie nodded, and Katie felt all motherly. She sat and hugged the android, and spoke soothing words. “Life is complicated, difficult, and sometimes hard, but you don’t have to figure it all out at once. All you have to do is decide on your part, today. Just make today a good day, if you can. Sure. We all do things sometimes that we don’t want to do, and we are not proud of that, but that is what forgiveness is for. Some days, I hardly know what I would do if I did not feel that God, or whoever got this universe up and running—the universe if you will, is forgiving, gracious, merciful and full of love.”
“But I don’t know what love is,” Artie said.
“But you can learn. You are a quick learner. It will come to you.” Katie leaned over and kissed Artie’s cheek and went back to work on the fire.
Boston hurried into the camp. “We have visitors,” she said, even as the others heard a ship landing nearby. They began to wake everyone.