Daily Bread

By Steve Rzasa (Rated PG)

Alex was coming down his last decline at the end of his third mandatory exercise session of the station’s day when he spotted Nicanor 112 standing by the open hatch. There wasn’t anyone or anything else in the spare space of the exercise cabin. It was stocked with four variable-gravity treadmills, a trio of lockers, and a mobile med-sensor drone that hovered in the middle, a gold and brass sphere that monitored all the vitals of the occupants. Alex had run late over the end of his shift, so he got the place to himself.

Sweat dripped off the end of Alex’s nose; he was glad he’d shaved his beard when he’d been hired. It used to get dripping wet when he’d run the hills outside Seattle.

“Gathering observational data on your biological counterparts, Nick?” he asked, panting as he slowed from a run to a jog. Thankfully, the program dipped him down to one and a half Earth gravities. 

“That is correct.” Nicanor stared for twenty seconds longer than a human would and then blinked three times in rapid succession. It was a welcome interruption from his constant staring. Other than his facial glitches and perpetually bland expression, Nicanor looked as real as a typical male of Grecian descent—curly black hair, solid brown eyes, swarthy olive complexion.

Alex let the program slow to a walk and a merciful 0.8 gravities. After sprinting uphill under 2.5 gravities, it felt as good as the sauna he had yesterday after eight hours in the observatory’s primary telescope, wedged between a mirror and its attendant gears. “That’s all? Come on, Nick—you never let a half sentence do where a paragraph can be inserted. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” His tone was pleasant, yes, but that’s how the robot was programmed. North American Robotics would be pretty damned stupid to create artificial humanoids with obnoxious voices. 

“Bull. Spill it, Nick. And I’m not speaking literally, so hang on to your lubricant.”

“I spoke truthfully. There is nothing wrong. Not functionally. As for matters of faith, Alexander, it is most troubling, though I appreciate your attempt at levity.”

“Yeah?” Alex took a swig of orange juice from the container stuck to the side of the grav-treadmill. The sharp cold was blessed relief to his parched throat. “Such as?”

“There. You see?” Nicanor stepped up to the treadmill and grabbed the bottle from Alexander’s hand. “You take this for granted as you do your breath and your heartbeat.”

Alex laughed. “You don’t want your own bottle of orange juice, do you? You don’t need it, not with a fusor power cell buried where your guts should be.”

“No, I don’t need to drink. But my faith demands that I do.”

Of all the things… Alex toweled off his face and neck, then dumped the rag into the UV sanitized module by the hatch. He snatched the orange juice bottle back from Nicanor. “You would have to drop that bomb from orbit at the end of my day. Big old crater…okay, let’s walk.”

They followed the curving corridor of Alacosta Station Observatory’s pedestrian ring, the outermost of three concentric tubes around a central core that housed hundreds of deep space sensors and one multiple mirror telescope that was the most powerful stellar observatory in existence. One hundred people and eighteen humanoid robots staffed the structure.

The left side of the corridor was a stark white notched with gray storage lockers and black conduits; the right was specked with thick transparent reinforced polymer that gave them a compressed view of a star field fringed by deep pinks and purples: the Nega Nebula, a stellar nursery.

“So, run this by me again. You want to drink my orange juice?” Alexander said.

“No. I want to fully partake in the experience that is being a Christian.”

“I thought you were already doing that. You’ve got your own Robo Church and everything.”

“It is the Unified Church of the Twice Created.”

“Well, you guys are just as good with the long goofy names as the regulars.”

“Perhaps, but we are equally alive.”

“Yeah, yeah, let’s not do that part again. Last time we had the whole do-I-have-a-soul-like-you debate we were up so late I nearly missed the beginning of shift. Took me two stim-bites to get caught up. But … so you’re upset because you can’t drink.”


“What’s that got to do with Robo Church?”

“I need the Lord’s Supper, Alexander.”

“Oh.” Alex could’ve kicked himself for not realizing it sooner. Hadn’t his grandparents been into something like that? He never got why choking down a cardboard-looking wafer and cheap fermented grape juice was such a big deal to the old folks—or their deity, for that matter.

“The communion of the saints is vital, Alex.”

He nodded to a female technician clad in a pale gray jumpsuit who passed by. “To the blood and flesh ones, Nick, but not your people.”

“The Reverend Lydia has made it clear we do not need to take Communion.”

“That’s your problem solved right there.”

“I fail to see—”

“You don’t have to try stuffing food in your mouth, Nick. Church says it’s okay. Docking maneuver complete. Airlock secure.”

They walked in silence for a couple of minutes, until Nick made a rumbling sound in his throat. It sounded to Alex as if one of the gyros on Mirror Three in the telescope was grinding against its housing. 

“That was an attempt to signal my desire to continue our conversation,” Nick said, smiling. 

“Clearing your throat, huh?”

“Yes. Was it close enough?”

“I suppose. Let me guess: Reverend What’s-His-Name hasn’t convinced you.”

“No, I believe he is in error, Alexander. The Scriptures state plainly: ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Christ blessed wine, broke bread, and gave a direct order to his followers. They in turn passed down this tradition across the intervening millennia. Think of it: the people who practice the Sacrament are participating in the same supper—though no doubt, a heavily modified version—as the founders of the faith.”

“When you put it that way, sounds pretty impressive.”

“Surely you are familiar with this tradition.”

Alex shrugged. “Got a lot of Lutherans and Catholics and Baptists tangled in the branches of my family tree. So, yeah, I got the stories. But here’s an update for you, Nick: you can’t eat or drink. Physically, it’s not possible. You weren’t constructed that way.”

“I have a mouth, and vocal synthesizer.”

“That won’t cut it.”

“Surely it is a start.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “Look, why don’t you just chew on the wafer, take a swig of wine and spit it all out when you’re done? Close enough, considering you’ve got nowhere internal to put it.”

“No.” Nicanor’s features took on a hard, stern edge, something Alex would expect from a sentry robot. He’d never seen him this grim before. “I will not profane the Sacrament any more than I would deny Christ.”

They reached Spoke Nine, the tube branching up from the ceiling to the core several hundred meters away. It was the simplest method of traversing the three rings and reaching the primary telescope. As they walked beneath the tube entry, mindful of the red and white slashed warning marks on the floor and ceiling, they could see a trio of station administrators floating “down” toward them, headfirst. The group reached the null point at the end of the tube and used handholds to swing themselves upright. They nodded greetings to Alex and Nicanor before continuing the opposite way down the corridor, now fully upright. 

Alex rubbed the bridge of his nose. This is why he preferred his human co-workers to Nicanor. Gyros on the fritz? Okay. Stellar radiation measurements needed? Check. A robot who wanted to eat and drink like a human so he could participate in a whacko cannibalistic ritual? He wasn’t paid enough to deal with that.

But Nicanor wasn’t any other robot. Together they jumped up into Spoke Nine, letting themselves drift along in the zero gravity until they reached the middle ring. When Alex launched himself, the familiar muscle twinge in his right leg reminded him of that fact. If it weren’t for Nicanor, Alex wouldn’t have any part of that leg, with or without synthetic musculature linked to his nervous system. The bulk of the original was likely a new satellite among the asteroids orbiting this star. 

Nicanor’s super-human speed, strength, and clarity of mind saved Alex’s life.

They touched down on the entry platform to the middle ring and swung themselves into this new corridor, which was primarily white with silver deck plates and pale blue conduits. “How badly do you want to do this thing, Nick?” Alex said.

“It is imperative. Without it, I am a fraud before the Lord.”

“Still don’t get why you’re telling me all this. I mean, we’re pals and all, but I hardly have the expertise.”

“But you do. Your resume of customizing robotic lifeforms is extensive.”

Alex skidded on the deck plates. He leaned in close to Nicanor, close enough to feel the heat from his fusor unit pulsing through his body and clothing. “Who the hell told you that?”

“I have access to the memory files of 120 of my brethren in my product line, and there are a few who can attest to your work at sensor enhancement, and strength improvement, not to mention the more exotic work you’ve done with concealed equipment.”

“Okay, alright, shh!” Alex scratched at the back of his neck.

“It was a simple matter of matching their anonymous records, which were rife with clues, with the blank space on your work record three point two five years ago to deduce that you had conducted the alterations.”

“Why not just apply to North American Robotics with your question? They’ve got to have a file or something about this kind of request.”

“I already have. It was denied. I was informed that since my model is soon to be two iterations out of date, they did not deem it an efficient use of parts and labor to attempt such a modification. They were also clear there are no plans to create a robot, no matter how humanoid, that is capable of eating and drinking—again, citing lack of profitability.”

The idea of the company treating one of his closest friends like a product rankled Alex, even though technically speaking, Nicanor was a product. In a flash Alex was back in the void of space, drifting in and out of consciousness as Nicanor dragged him back to the bright square of the open airlock. 

“I would not have come to you if I did not think it was imperative, Alexander.”

“It’s a hell of a thing. You want me to fit you with digestive innards?” Alex hissed. “It’s not just a throat, Nick! You don’t have an esophagus, a stomach, and you sure as hell don’t have a waste disposal chute!”

“Consider it a repayment of a debt, Alexander.”

“I think of it as a reminder.”

It wasn’t until they reached the cluster of cabin hatches for the station technicians. Alex stood still outside a flat black panel that lit up with blue lights for a retinal scan, and yellow for a DNA sniff. Satisfied, the program switched to all green lights and unlocked the hatch.

“Please consider, Alexander.”

He nodded. “Sure, Nick. I’ll sleep on it.”

But there was no way he was going to go that far out on an umbilical cable and risk his job. 

On shift at 0800 the next day aboard Alacosta, he floated up the main access shaft along the port side of the main telescope. Red supports, each as narrow as a man’s arm, crisscrossed the space and provided handholds with which Alex pulled himself along. With each grasp and shove, he accelerated. He smiled as he swooped alongside the telescope. Live at Earth gravity all the time? No way.

“Which one’s out of whack?” he asked, his breath fogging a tiny patch inside his extravehicular suit’s faceplate. There was no atmosphere inside the primary scope, which helped reduce corrosion on the internal workings.

“Servomotor Three-Alpha,” the voice on the other end of his communicator said. “We’ve got a buzzer on location.”

“Feed me the visual.”

A square of light appeared in the right side of his faceplate. Yeah. Servomotor Three-Alpha was toast. A bent access panel floated a half meter out from one side of the motor assembly, and lubricant swirled in an oily film in the intervening space. “What happened?”

“How should I know?”

“You’re the scope operator on duty, Gotam. You keep screwing around with the scope trying to test out its max abilities, you’ll break it badly enough I’ll earn more than one Ethiopian beer.”

“I didn’t—” Gotam muttered something in Hindi. Alex had no idea what, since all Gotam had taught him were basic directions and five swear words. “Just fix it, so I can bring the mirrors around by 1000 hours for the VS plus 1109 observation.”

“Three beers, at least.”

“Fine. Dammit. I’m not going to have any leisure pay left.”

“Your fault for spending it on one girl here and the other back in Bombay.”

Gotam cleared his throat. “Okay. So, … uh, what’s up with you? You nearly took Shen’s head off with his food tray at breakfast this morning.”

“Got a problem I’m working on.”

“Oh, yeah? Work?”


“Oh. Gardening again?”

Alex rolled his eyes at the code they’d worked out. You never knew when station admin was listening in on communications between the scope operations and repair units.  But he needed to hash this one over outside his brain, and Gotam was his closest friend—besides Nicanor—aboard. He was also the one who got Alex the interview on Alacosta. “Yeah. Grafting. Not sure if it’s gonna work.”

“Well, I never thought gardening aboard this station was a good idea. Climate’s all wrong. Outside the greenhouses, of course.”


“What kind of graft?”

“Has to do with increasing consumption of nutrients.”

Gotam sucked in a breath. “That’s… tricky.”

“Tell me about it.” Alex shone his palm beacon across the damaged servomotor, and the buzzer drone. Blinking red lights swam about in the zero gravity. 

The drone was a small, spherical robot of bronze and silver coverings that could fit in Alex’s hand. It registered Alex’s arrival and its lights changed to green, then it darted off into the dark depths of the access space. 

“This job. Are you going to take it?”

“I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it can’t be done successfully, and I’d rather not risk trying it.” Alex snagged the wayward access panel in one hand and activated his plasma torch with the other. His faceplate darkened as the blue-white glare lit up the darkness. “There’s too much internal reconfiguring to worry about.”

“I don’t think that’s what you’re worried. About. I mean, you’ve grafted far more complicated shoots before.”

Alex scowled. The damned panel wasn’t sitting right in its port. He thumbed the torch over to cutting mode and its beam narrowed. He sliced the panel free and opted for the slow-repair regrowth mesh. He reoriented the panel and carefully applied the mesh. It required a firm hand to hold it in place for a few minutes.  “Gotam, let’s do this later.”

“What, you’re just going to give up?”

“The job’s too much trouble.”

“Because you’re surrendering.”

“What? No.”

“So you say. Finish my fix and go mope on your own, then. Even if you had the right gardening supplies, you probably don’t have the skills to get that graft done anyway.” Gotam cut the signal.

Alex ground his teeth. The mesh held. It would keep the panel secure, until he could fabricate the proper replacement for that and for the damaged servomotor in the parts foundry on the inner ring. Plenty of time to get both done for Gotam’s appointment at 1000 hours. 

Was Gotam right? Was he just plain scared of getting caught? What about Nicanor’s friendship? 

The problem, though, seemed insurmountable. He could get sacked from his job. Worse, he could get red-flagged by North American Robotics and the government—meaning he’d never work around another robot again, or even be allowed casual contact. Hell, if he found the wrong prosecutor, he might even get prison time.

And anyway, it was too complex a problem. Nicanor wanted an entire digestive system in a robot body! There was no way.

“Okay, a stomach’s easy enough,” he muttered. “It doesn’t have to digest. Could just be a double-layered polymer sack. The waste chute could open from a port on Nicanor’s side, so he could empty it in privacy…”

Alex shook his head. “No, forget it.”

Even as he scanned the busted servomotor for the proper dimensions, metallurgy, and weight to replicate, his thoughts circled around to the possible solutions. “I could just have the food dump right into a small incinerator, something that could provide backup power to Nick’s fusor. Now, an esophagus—not too terrible. Rubber tubing, flexible. Got meters of that. But saliva? Have to find a source and a way to make it constant…”

His mind filled up with schematics, and outlines, a virtual pile of drawings and tinkerings. He gritted his teeth. Friendship could be a tremendous pain in the ass.

The scanner flashed green at him. Good. A 3-D representation of a brand new, undamaged Mark VI servomotor appeared in his view plate’s screen. He transmitted the specs to the foundry. By the time he got back to the airlock at the base of the telescope, the fabrication would be underway.

Alex flung himself down the access shaft, dodging the support struts. He tried to focus his mind on the servomotor situation, but it got increasingly crowded out by his plans for Nicanor’s modifications.


It took him another five minutes to make up his mind. 

It took two weeks of late nights and way too much stim gum in the mornings. Gotam logged Alex’s arrival on shift a full two hours before the time he actually showed up on the last three days. 

Jay was mercifully silent about the whole thing, especially during the procedures. There were a few times Alex daydreamed about what it’d be like to be a robot’s dentist, with a patient who could hold his mouth open at an angle 30 percent greater than a human’s for an indefinite amount of time. 

For saliva, he was able to rig up a small pump that recycled some of Nicanor’s joint lubricant, mixing it with enough water to soften up any food Nicanor chewed on. Watered down, the lubricant wasn’t nearly as pungent as the standard 20-B-70, but Alex idly wondered if he’d also managed to create the first case of robotic halitosis. 

The trick for each of their sessions was to get as much done as possible, because Jay’s service record was impeccable, and any prolonged absence would be noted. As for scans of his insides, well, Alex employed a hefty amount of his leisure pay and some of Gotam’s Ethiopian beer to bribe the tech whom Nicanor saw for regular check-ups. Those check-ups got postponed.

At the end, Alex was exhausted, his account near empty, his right hand sore from a burn he’d sustained installing the incinerator, and his anxiety so high he barely ate. Between lack of food and his regular prescribed exercise, he figured he’d lost a couple kilos.

“Alex.” A hand shook him.

He blinked. What? What time was it? Hell, what day was it?

“It is 0915 hours. I must go to our regular service.” Nicanor smiled at him. He was seated on the edge of the makeshift bench crammed into Alex’s cabin, between his bed and refresher station. “Please. Accompany me. This can be our test run.”

“I dunno.” Alex rubbed his face. “I had about fourteen diagnostics I wanted to run…”

“It would be an honor to have you present. I insist.”

“Okay, fine.”

The service was held in the staff lounge in the middle ring, halfway around from Alex’s cabin. It was a simple cube-shaped compartment, with a small porthole in the far wall that faced out to the core and the nebula beyond. Someone had moved in a red and black handrail, the kind used for traversing zero gravity areas of the station, and set it up on the deck with an empty silver box once used to store plasma torch power cells. 

Just one other robot was in there, a tall, dark-skinned man with black hair trimmed short and wide brown eyes. He had a broad nose and wide smile. He also had a black collar slashed with a gold line affixed to his white jumpsuit. 

He smiled at Alex and Nicanor. “We can begin as soon as you are ready, Nicanor 112.”

“Thank you, Ryu 441.”

Ryu provided Nicanor with a transparent e-page. The hand-sized flimsy device was turned to a long column of text. They alternated reading through a bunch of prayers and verses and talk about the end of the world. Alex ignored it all; he felt like he was back in school and listening to a dull lesson. But it made him calm, instead of antsy, which was his normal reaction to being lectured. 

Halfway through, Nicanor knelt on the box, with his hands cupped before him, wrists set on the railing. He closed his eyes and bowed his head.

“This is the body Christ, given into death so that you may live.” Ryu placed a tiny white triangle into Nicanor’s hands. 

Nicanor took it, set it in his mouth, and chewed.

Alex leaned forward. He held his breath. No engineer was really sure his work was a success until its trial run. This was it.

Nicanor swallowed, the pseudo-muscles of his throat bobbing.

Whew. One down, one to go.

“This is the blood of Christ, shed for the remission of your sins.” Ryu gave Nicanor a short test tube of clear polymer that was filled two-thirds with a red liquid. 

Nicanor drank it, carefully. He handed the tube back to Ryu.

Come on, come on…

Then he heard it: a low, soft rumble, followed by a buzz. That was the incinerator, breaking down the materials and converting them to supplemental energy. He grinned.  

“Amazing,” Ryu murmured. “A true miracle.”

When Nicanor turned around, he had the strangest expression on his face. Alex could’ve sworn he was going to cry—except robots couldn’t. Alex’s brain immediately started charting plans for how to make that possible.

But for the present, he offered his hands. “Congratulations, Nick. You got your supper.”

Nicanor grasped both his shoulders instead of the proffered hand. “Thank you, Alex. This means… a great deal to me. You have no idea. I am now whole.”

“Ah, forget it. So, it makes us even, right?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

Alex jerked a thumb at Ryu. “He needs to keep his mouth shut, though. No bragging about this. Not a word. Last thing I need is to get brought before the Chief Engineer’s desk.”

Thirty-six hours later, Alex stood in the Chief Engineer’s office, right in front of a glass and metal desk that was big enough to use as starship. 

Derek Aguinaldo was in his fifties, thickset with a severely receding hairline streaked gray at the temples. His moustache was gigantic enough to hide most of his mouth, giving him the appearance of having a perpetual frown. There was nothing on his desk: no plas-flimsies, no e-pages. 

“Technician Rinn, I need a better explanation for this than ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ and I need it now,” Aguinaldo said. 

“Hey, Derek, relax. I think someone got too excitable when they heard a rumor I was modding robots—which by the way, I’m not.” It was vaguely true. He’d only altered Nicanor; he wasn’t planning on taking up his old pastime as a new hobby.

“Really? Because there’s chatter among the station ‘bots that Nicanor here can eat.” Derek gestured. “Nicanor, I need your statement.”

Nicanor made eye contact with Alex, who immediately grimaced. Well, that sucked vacuum. Robots didn’t lie. “Yes, sir, that is correct.”

“And Technician Alexander Rinn performed this modification?”

A pause. “Yes, sir.”

Derek rubbed at his copious forehead. “There’s a word I know in Tagalog that sums up this situation, but my grandmother made me promise never to use it in mixed company, so I won’t. All right, Rinn, what do you have to say now?”

“So much for plausible deniability.” Alex shrugged. “Yeah, I did. It was—call it an experiment. No money changed hands. I didn’t allocate any resources from anywhere that I couldn’t replace. Those items got paid for out of my leisure account.”

“Was this work done off duty?”

“Of course.”

“Good. Not that it makes any difference to North American Robotics, granted, but every little bit we can document that proves you’re not ’bot modifying in competition with them is gravy for us. Do you have any idea what kind trouble we’re all in? I have to report this.”

“I understand, Derek. I got nothing to hide. I mean, I do but there’s not any way for me to deny it. You’re going to have a full scan of Nick any minute, so…”

Derek nodded. He pressed his palm to the desk and the whole glass lit up a pale blue. “With your permission, Nicanor…?”

“You have it, sir. And I must add for the record, this was my request of Technician Rinn. He did not in any way initiate the modification process. I asked him, as a gesture of friendship, to perform the procedures.”

“You make it sound like you went to the dentist to have a tooth printed and inserted,” Derek grumbled, “This is far more complex.”

He tapped a combination on a corner of the desk with his fingers, as if he were drumming to an inaudible tune. A series of white lights trickled around the edge of the desk facing Alex and Nicanor, and after a handful of seconds a detailed image of Nicanor’s innards appeared above the desk as a diaphanous hologram, floating half a meter in the air.

“Remarkable,” Derek muttered, and for a moment he didn’t appear irritable. “Working saliva ducts?”

“Yeah, they were tricky. Have to be refilled every couple of days, depending on how much eating he actually does.”

“I still don’t understand why you even wanted to do this. Is there a robotic dinner club I don’t know about?”

Alex and Nicanor glanced at each other. “Did none of the alleged witnesses explain when I first tested this new mode?” Nicanor asked.


“Hell, Derek, he’s using it for his church ceremony thing. The supper.”

Derek’s hand froze in the middle of magnifying the upper torso of the holographic Nicanor. “The Eucharist?”

“I … okay, sure.”

“Really…” Derek turned in his chair and gazed at the wall. He nudged at the lower edge of the bulkhead with his boot, and the wall suddenly went transparent, revealing a gorgeous star field. Alex was impressed: he’d heard the chief engineer had a decent sensor input display rigged to the station’s main array but had no idea the picture quality was this intense.

“Look, Derek, I know it seems like it was a bad idea…”

“Seems like? It’s illegal, Rinn.”

“Yeah, okay, so you’re not supposed to modify one of American’s robots without the proper permits. But they denied Nick his request, and—well, I wasn’t about to let him down. It doesn’t make any sense to me. They build robots, alter them with each new production line to be more and more human, yet when one of them wants to take a jump ahead toward that goal, they smack him down. I don’t care if it isn’t cost-efficient: Nick wanted to be able to participate in his religion with a clean conscience.”

“And you’re all about sticking it to the man, is that it, Rinn?”

“Yeah, that, and … you guys know me. If there’s a challenge, I’m going to latch on to it like a Procyon energy mite.”

“I see. Given your record and Nicanor’s—especially in light of the plasma storm incident—I understand why you’d make such a decision. I wish you’d both come to me ahead of time. We could have gotten out ahead of this. As it is, word’s already spread off-station to the neighboring colonies. That’s how I found out: an inquiry from the chief engineer on Randel Science Station. Give it a week or two, and the news will show up on Earth. That’s when things will get interesting.”

“By interesting you mean my ass fired and Nick’s modifications removed.” Alex didn’t savor either prospect, because he loved both his job and the station, and he hated the idea of someone monkeying around with his work on Nicanor. It was art.

“Fortunately for you both, I’m going to back you up, rather than shepherd you out the air lock.” Derek smiled—at least, Alex thought it was a smile. The corners of the moustache lurched upward, and the skin around his eyes crinkled. “Alex, I know you don’t give two damns about what I believe—or what Nicanor believes, either. But you’ve altered a religiously-inclined robot so successfully that it can take part on the Holy Sacrament.”

“That make me a saint?”

“No, hardly, but it makes you an ally. We all need one.” Derek used his right hand to conjure a blank square and a keypad. “I’ll draft up a report. We’ll send it off to the Reverend Lydia and North American Robotics simultaneously. And, I think, United Interstellar Media.”

“Wait a sec. I thought you meant you were going to help us keep this quiet!”

“No, I don’t think that’s possible. Besides, it’s best to go to Confession while the sin’s still fresh, don’t you think, Nicanor?”

“I concur.”

Alex frowned. “At least you don’t need any modifications for that. Seriously, Derek, you’re betting an awful lot that North American Robotics won’t press charges.”

“Oh, I think they’ll come around to this, Rinn, especially when you show them how to duplicate the work. With as big a success as Reverend Lydia’s church and others have been, the company has had to step back from its draconian regulations.”

“Lydia didn’t think they needed Communion, from what Nick tells me.”

“Reverend Lydia left her human congregation because she believed they were in error when it came to interpreting Scripture,” Nicanor said. “Am I any less qualified to do the same? Should I not adhere to the Word of the Lord as closely as possible?”

“I … yeah, I think so. If I were you, Nick, and I believed as deeply as you do about this, I’d want to do it right.”

“Think of it as one of your challenging projects, Alexander.” Nicanor smiled. “You endeavor to achieve what is required—and you have an urge to surpass that goal. I have the same.”

Alex considered this. “Tell you what, Derek: let me write the letter. I’ll get you and Nick to read it; you can send it off with your approval.”

Derek rubbed at his moustache. “I can do that. Any particular reason?”

“If they’re going to hear a report, they better hear it straight from the guy who did it,” Alex said. “And if we’re going to use the report to convince North American Robotics to not prosecute any of us, I think they need to know the whole deal from the beginning.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see.” He wouldn’t like it, but Alex’s realization filled him with tremendous certainty. He’d never been urged to act like he was now. “And, uh, you guys had probably pray if that’s what you do when things are about to go rough.”

“I have done so since the moment we stepped into the room,” Nicanor said.

Back in his cabin, Alex pulled up a blank square on his e-page. 

I’m not a very good person. Hell, none of us are, if you really think about it. Most of my decisions in life have been about me and my benefit, my profit. This is includes a lot of tinkering that shouldn’t have taken place. 

Eighteen months ago, I nearly died in a plasma storm that swept across Alacosta Station Observatory. Nicanor 112 is the reason I made it out alive. Your denial of his request to be modified in order to allow eating and drinking robbed him of the same chance to live.

So, here’s what I did…

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