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Pilot Program

By Marian Mendez
Page 2 of 7

"What's that?" Tarrant said, sleepily. Actually, it came out "Wuzza?" but Dayna deciphered his remark.

"I've decided to keep a diary."

"Er, do you think that's wise?" Tarrant sat up in bed, belatedly clutching the sheet to himself.

Dayna chuckled, but didn't lift her head from the small notebook she was writing in. "A dream diary, silly. If I can save what bits I do remember, maybe they'll fit together eventually."

"The doctors told me I should ignore the dreams."

"Yes. The same doctors who haven't helped either of us one little bit. They don't want us to remember." Dayna stopped writing to look up at Tarrant. "Maybe they're right. Maybe it would be better if we never remembered our past. Maybe we were horrible people. It doesn't matter. I have to know, Tarrant."

Tarrant nodded. "It's been eating at me, too, Dayna." He began rummaging through a pile of papers stacked on the bedside table.

"What are you doing?"

"Starting my own diary." He asked Dayna, "you wouldn't happen to have a spare stylus, would you?"

"All right, Tarrant, hand it over," Dayna threatened, "and it had better be good. After all the trouble I've had sneaking over here all this time, just because you wouldn't leave your precious Vindicator for an evening ."

"Nonsense, you didn't want me at your quarters. You were afraid your roommate would be jealous. I hate it when women fight over me. It's so brutal."

"Hand it over right now, if you don't want to see brutality." Dayna dove for Tarrant's tunic, slipped her hands beneath and began tickling.

"Stop! Stop, torture, this is unfair... if I wasn't a gentleman..."

"Inconvenient, isn't it? I'm glad I'm not a gentleman." When Tarrant threw up his hands in surrender, Dayna relented, kissing the breathless man briefly before releasing him.

"Me too. I mean, I'm glad that you're not a gentleman," Tarrant confessed. He handed a small black-bound book to Dayna in exchange for a similar slim volume. "Skip past the first twenty pages."

"Why? What have you got to hide?" Dayna turned immediately to the front of the book. "Hmm, names, addresses, com-numbers... I don't quite understand the rating system, though. Stars, comets, and what are those circles with the radiating lines?"

"Novas." The pilot feinted a grab at the book. "I had to camouflage the dream diary, Dayna."

"Mine is in a book of boring conference notes. Am I in here?" Dayna asked, with a hint of menace.

"No, only names I might forget are in there, Dayna." She was slightly appeased, and smiled when he added, "If you were in there, I'd have to invent another symbol."

"I certainly hope so." Dayna stopped clowning and paged past the names. She read slowly, having difficulty with Tarrant's handwriting.

Tarrant settled beside her with Dayna's `conference' notebook in his hands. They read in silence. The pilot finished first and closed Dayna's book, letting his fingers rest on the cover while he pondered what he had read. For weeks they had kept the diaries, but this was the first time they had exchanged them. The similarities were beyond coincidence. He shook his head. "They should never have put us on the same project. We were bound to meet and discover their plot."

Dayna looked up from Tarrant's diary, marking her place with her hand as she did. "I imagine they thought it was safe enough. I was in the weapons lab, you were a pilot. For two years neither of us guessed the other existed. We probably never would have, if they hadn't got greedy and wanted to pick our brains."

Tarrant grimaced. "Didn't they already do that? I'm sorry, that wasn't funny."

"It probably was very funny to someone," Dayna said bitterly.

"It won't be funny any more if they find out that we know." Tarrant took Dayna's hand. "I don't want to lose you again."

Dayna pulled free, suddenly fierce. "Then fight along with me. I tell you, I'm not going to let them buy my past with a fancy job and a few credits."

"How can we fight?" Although he was as angry as Dayna, he knew blind rage was useless against an enemy that ruled planets. "We can't very well say, `Excuse us, please, would you give us back our memories. We were sentimentally attached to them'. "

"We don't ask, we take."

"Be reasonable, Dayna, even if they offered to restore those lost years, we couldn't trust them to do it."

"All right, we'll do it ourselves."

"I'm all for that, Dayna. You know you're the only one I trust." Tarrant drew the woman into his arms. "Together, then?"

Dayna kissed Tarrant. "Together! Come on." She escaped the pilot's embrace, leaped to her feet and tugged on his hands.

"Where are we going?" he asked, bemused by Dayna's sudden change of mood.

"To my quarters."

"Why not stay here?"

"Because you haven't got a Mark 24 graphic visualizing computer here, that's why not." Dayna let go of Tarrant to snatch up both notebooks. "Well, come on, hurry up."

Dayna was half-way out the door before Tarrant pulled himself to his feet. "Wait up!"

Dayna sent her roommate out after a hasty introduction to Tarrant with a plea for privacy. The door slid shut behind the long-legged redhead and Dayna muttered, "It's a good thing that I have your little black book."

Wisely ignoring that remark, Tarrant said, "Are you sure the room is secure?"

Dayna shrugged. "As sure as I can be. I sweep the area every day. But to be on the safe side I made a jammer." She set up the machine on the table and activated it. "There, now even if they are listening, they won't hear anything." She turned to the computer occupying an alcove in the living quarters. "Tarrant, meet Mark."

The pilot gave the computer a narrow-eyed distrustful stare. "It hasn't got a personality, has it?"

"No, I never did give it one." Dayna frowned. "I'm not sure why I didn't, it has the capability." She began manually feeding information into the computer.

"I don't care for `live' computers, myself." Tarrant pulled another chair up to sit beside Dayna. "What precisely are you doing?"

"Normally, I use Mark to try out new designs. Describe an object in enough detail and it creates simulations. They're quicker and less expensive to modify than actual models. I'm going to see if Mark can recreate our memories."

"I don't think Mark is quite up to that."

"When I read your notes I saw that we were talking about the same people, for the most part. If we combine our information..."

"Always supposing that the people in our dreams are not simply part of the programming."

"Why go to the trouble to make up the same people for both of us to dream about? They must have been real." While talking, Dayna was continuing to give the computer commands on a keyboard. She stopped. "Mark responds to audio commands, of course, but it's faster to input the initial parameters by hand."

A hazy human outline formed, floating just about the carpet two meters away from the computer alcove. Dayna and Tarrant turned away from Mark to examine the hologram. The image was nude, entirely without sexual characteristics and a dull beige in color. It resembled a sculptor's preliminary model.

"Right." Tarrant nodded. "Let's see... I dreamed about a dark-haired man." The head of the rotating figure was abruptly covered in black hair.

"Not that dark," Dayna said, "more brownish. And none on the face, for goodness sake." The computer complied with the changes.

Tarrant stood up next to the hologram. He held his hand out, indicating a level below his own height. "Not that tall, either." The image obligingly shrunk. "Now for a face."

Hours later the room was fully occupied. Most of the people floated, silently staring at Dayna and Tarrant.

"It's creepy." Dayna shivered elaborately. "I don't know who they are, but I do know them." She pointed to one image, a woman with huge golden-hazel eyes, and black hair even shorter than Dayna's. "And I don't like that one."

"I don't know, she certainly is attractive."

"Don't." Dayna said. She glared at the hologram. "I really don't like her."

"I can't say as I have a very friendly feeling toward this fellow." Tarrant nodded in the direction of the first figure they'd created. "He looks like a mean customer."

"I find him rather... interesting."

Tarrant snorted. "Interesting is the word for him, all right. He's wearing more iron than a retired general showing off his medal collection at an FSA graduation ceremony." Unaccountably, Tarrant was becoming jealous of the way Dayna eyed the man's hologram. "I wonder how many kilos that jacket weighed."

"I wonder what his name is," Dayna said wistfully.

"Or was. Even if these people actually existed..."

"You know they did."
"Even assuming you're right, they might be dead."

Dayna turned away from the holograms. "I know. And even if they are alive, we haven't got a clue where they are. What's the use of trying."

"Don't give up on me now. Pay no mind to my skepticism." Tarrant put a hand on Dayna's shoulder. "You didn't strike me as the kind to quit."

"I'm not." Dayna's head came up, her chin firmly defiant. "I'm also not the sort to sit around waiting for things to happen. What do we do now, Tarrant?"

The pilot sighed. "You do know how to ask the tough questions."

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Marian Mendez

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