“Let me see if I have this straight,” Estha said, sitting up straight and tapping a finger on his chin. “Zau was your lover and the two of you made a living harvesting relics from across the Shell.”
Moira tilted her head to one side, hesitated, then nodded.
“And she was human, not a synthetic intelligence or anything like that.”
She nodded again, then gave a half shrug and downed the last of the wine in her glass. Truth be told, Moira’s life might have been easier if she had fallen in love with a syntellect. At least then her lover might have had a backup, and as unconventional as that relationship might have been at least it would have been more consistent.
Estha leaned forward and squinted at Moira as he refilled her glass. “Please, then, explain how your human girlfriend came to inhabit the same synthetic neural architecture as an alien intelligence. Moreover, an alien intelligence which claims to be exo-Shell in origin.”
Moira drowned her discomfort in half a glass of white wine and wished that the drone would return with their dinner. She rarely discussed her past with anyone, but Estha had one of those voices which inspired trust in listeners. That, coupled with the soft gleam of his grey eyes, surely made him a confidant of all who met him. She supposed that was a good trait for a priest to possess.
Finally, she drew a deep breath and said, “It’s a long story.”
“Our dinner has only just arrived,” Estha replied, waving towards the drone as it hovered towards them, bearing a broad wooden tray on a set of telescoping arms, “and I have cleared the remainder of my wake to spend in your presence.”
The serving drone deposited their meal and Moira took a moment to gather her thoughts as Estha introduced each of the delicately prepared foods on her plate. She ought to have been enjoying the moment, reveling in every exotic flavor and pressing Estha to tell her more about his strange religion, but instead she found herself reliving the moments which had severed Zau from her life.
As they settled into eating, Moira said, “I won’t bore you with the details, but Zau and I were following a particularly enticing set of leads to a cache of advanced tech when we ended up finding a void ship wrecked in a canyon in… well, I won’t say what zone because if I can ever get up the nerve to go back there may still be some sweet tech to be harvested.”
“Don’t you think that others will find it?”
“Unlikely. The Shell is a big place and we were working on a hunch, putting together several seemingly contradictory legends from multiple zones until we worked out about where we might find this cache…”
She hesitated then, remembering the way that the wind had whipped through the canyon, propelling an endless stream of red dust which hardly managed to find purchase on the windward side of the derelict ship before being driven away. The sound of the starboard thoracic airlock creaking open to admit her for the first time as Zau cranked at the manual override…