Pilot Hamash and A.I. Kal

By Cameron Corder

Hamash watched her opponents’ eyes glance nervously between their cards, and then back at the table. Sweat dripped slowly down their faces. This was the end of a long round of cards. The screen sitting in the middle of the table showed that more than two thousand credits at stake. Hamash suppressed a smile, keeping her face emotionless and cold. They’re scared. 

The air hung low with cigarette smoke as Hamash sat at the gambling table. It was as thick as the tension in the room. Hamash herself didn’t smoke, but the other pilots seemed to find it relaxing. To her left, Blazer was slowly burning his way through an entire pack, in this game alone. He’d been on a bad run the whole game, and was steadily losing more and more. Which was good. Hamash needed his money bad. 

Static popped in her ear. “Jenny, please don’t blow all of your money on this game. We don’t really need a new fuse yet,” Kal said. For an artificial intelligence, he was surprisingly good at mimicking human emotions. He genuinely sounded worried. But he was distracting, so she flicked her earring to cut his connection.

She looked back at her cards, thumbing their edges as the images moved and danced on the cards. In the back of her mind, she knew she should’ve listened to Kal. He was reasonable and careful, and she was… less so. She’d been on a losing streak lately too, and she didn’t have a whole lot of money left.

But, dammit, why not? She needed that money badly. She really did need a new fuse, despite Kal trying to convince her otherwise. If she didn’t win now, she’d have to work for months on this station to get enough credits. And, on top of that, she had great cards. It wasn’t that much of a risk, was it?

Blazer sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He threw down his cards while swearing loudly, took his coat and left, mumbling that he had to get back to work anyway.

Good. One more left, Hamash thought. She looked at the man across from her. “Ready yet, Clock?”

Clock looked up from his hand. He was an excellent pilot, but was terrible at gambling. His face, try as he might, showed a touch of desperation. He subtly wiped the droplet on his brow. “Hamash, you may have gotten me this time.” But then a smirk stole across his mouth. He threw down a card. “Or maybe not.”

The red viper card. The holographic snake slithered across the card’s face and glowed slightly when it hit the table. Hamash’s heart sank. Don’t tell me that he has the whole damned set. Hamash had counted them off, thinking that Blazer had gone for them. If he did, then he had one of the only set of cards that could beat Hamash’s set of feathered avondales. 

Without thinking, Hamash bit her lip. He could be bluffing. Or was he hoping she would call it a bluff? Her odds weren’t good now. He was still smirking, like he had pinned her in a corner. Kal would’ve said that this was all really “foolish” and spit out some dismal probability of success.

But that’s what made it exciting. 

Hamash forced a laugh, and threw down her blue avondale which also shined as it hit the table. “I’ll add 250 credits too.” She punched the number in the counter at her side. 

Smiling widely now, Clock added another 250 as well. “Remember, vipers beat avondales.” He placed the green viper on the table. It could sense its counterpart, and they both shined brighter.

Part of her flinched inside, and kept that hidden from Clock. The thrill of the game surged in her. The odds were against her again. She was in her element. Well, now was her time to go for it. 

“Hmm, remind me again, I can’t really remember the rules,” Hamash said. “It’s been a while since I’ve played.”

Clock shot her a puzzled look and amused. “Like a day, you mean.”

“But vipers beat avondales only if you have the full set, right?” She said with a grin despite her nerves, and revealed the rest of her cards. The five holographic avondales together jumped out of her cards and flew around the table.

Clock’s face went slack as he dropped the rest of his cards on the table. Four vipers and a kelling. Relief washed over her. Damn was that close.

Hamash laughed lightly. “Almost, Clock.” She swiped her wrist on the sensor in the middle, collecting her earnings. “Had me on the ropes there for a minute.”

“Thought I could fool you there at the end, but you saw through it,” Clock said. “That was pretty risky there.”

Hamash stretched back in her chair. “Life’s short. Sometimes you gotta go for it, so I did.” Kal would be relieved that she hadn’t lost all her money. And on top of that, she’d be able to get that fuse for the ship.

Blazer and the other pilot there – Stone, wasn’t it? – pulled their chairs back up to the table. Clock began collecting the cards for another round. Hamash, against the nagging part of her, stood and pickup her jacket. She began to fasten the buttons.

“Wait, aren’t you gonna stay for another?” said Stone, who now sat at the table.

“No, I got a job to do.” She smoothed out the creases on the sleeves. 

“Oh yeah? What kind of job is it?” Clock asked, putting the cards into the shuffler. 

“Satellite repair.”

“Nice, those are quick ones. Where at?” Clock started to deal the cards to the others.


Clock stopped dealing. Blazer, who was sipping a brandy, nearly spat some of his drink across the table. Even Stone seemed surprised, and spoke up with a startled voice. “Carime? Out in the Plantar section?”

“Yeah, is there a problem?”

Blazer squirmed in his seat. “Well, that’s where the Kallic were before we beat ‘em in the war,” he said. “It ain’t safe. They could be patrolling around there or somethin’.”

“A few Kallic ships were spotted a few months back,” Stone said. “One of my friends said the Federation had to sweep the whole section for more, and the scouts reported that there was definitely sign of Kallic activity.”

“Oh come on,” Hamash said. “I don’t get scared easily. The war just ended; they’re not going to come back so soon.”

Stone chuckled. “They don’t think like humans do though, who knows what they’re planning out there. They lost hard and they won’t be forgetting anytime soon.” 

“Besides,” Blazer said, “the battles left the space in that section all twisted, it ain’t stable. Hard to fly through.”

“And I’m a good pilot, aren’t I?” Hamash headed to the door. “I’ll be fine.”

“Hamash, seriously,” Clock said. It was odd to hear him sound concerned. “Be careful. It’s not safe.”

Hamash smiled, with a wink. “I’ll be back to beat you again, Clock, if you’re feeling up to it.” 

He snickered and waved goodbye as she stepped out into the hall.

There was a lot of activity, as usual in the station at this time. Some people were already out on their missions, but most still lagged behind, making final preparations before heading to the hangar.

Breaking into a light jog, she made her way to the requisition center. She pressed her earring firmly. 

“Well?” Kal said.


Did you win?

“Who do think I am? Of course I won.”

Kal sighed. “Good… that was a lot of money on the table. Don’t do that again. I can’t have you wasting all of your money on stupid risks.”

“Stupid? We need a new fuse, how else was I going to pay for it?” 

“The SAFE way. It’s called saving money, I will have to teach you about it since you’ve no idea what it is,” he said dryly.

“Sounds boring. I prefer the fun way.”

Kal groaned.

“Hey, was that a groan? When did you learn how to groan?”

“Last night there was a software update. It had more human ways to express ‘emotions’,” Kal said. “But it said to consult you for more clarification on when to use them. Was that last groan appropriate?”

“I guess so,” Hamash said. “We’ll work on it. Anyways, start firing up. I’m buying the fuse now and then I’ll be there in a few. Can you make sure we have all the details for this satellite job?” 

“We do, I’ve already double-checked.”

“Why Kal, how thoughtful.”

“Well, we are partners, aren’t we?” 

“That we are.”

“I’ve charted a course through Gate 4.”

“Thanks, Kal. You’re the best AI I’ve ever worked with.”

“Oh stop, Jenny, I’d be blushing if it were in my programming.” He paused, as if thinking for a second. “If I even had a body, for that matter.”

The connection dropped right as she came to the store. The attendant greeted her.

“I need a warp fuse,” Hamash said, then added, “and some batteries for a multi tool.”

“Okay,” she said, with his fingers tapping across a screen. “You’re piloting a Sparrowfly these days, right? What’s the model?” 

“Yeah, it’s a Feronian Sparrowfly, 5th gen.”

“Alright.” She swiped on the screen and pushed a sensor forward.

The price was right under two thousand credits. It was necessary, but it still pained Hamash to pay it. She held her wrist on the sensor, and felt a tingle. At least she had a little left over, maybe she could hit the bar when she got back.

She flashed a smile. “Thank you.” She typed on the screen some more. “Luckily, there’s a crew already out there by your ship, and they have a warp fuse with them. They’ll head over to your ship when they can. It shouldn’t take long.”

“Great, thank you.”

“Good luck out there!” The attendant waved.

She waved back to the attendant, and started towards the hangar. She pulled out her Miniscreen from her pocket, and began to read up on the job ahead of her. She could’ve told Kal to tell her the details, but she preferred to review them herself. Didn’t want to get too dependent on AIs, and get soft.

The job was simple. A Federation satellite that was orbiting the third planet in the Carime system suddenly went offline a month back, around the same time that an anomaly appeared there. At first, the Federation assumed that it was temporary, and that the satellite would re-establish connection, but after two weeks, there was nothing. They would’ve sent an official patrol out, but they considered it a waste of Federation resources to do such a small job. The pay was alright, not a whole lot, but enough to make it worth the trouble.

Worried about what Blazer said, Hamash looked up the Kallic sightings on her Miniscreen. Unfortunately, Stone wasn’t spinning tales; there were several Kallic ships detected in the Plantar section less than two months ago. But they weren’t too close to Carime, so Hamash wasn’t troubled. She and Kal weren’t going to be there for long, so they wouldn’t see any trouble out there.

The anomaly however was strange. A report said that it had appeared exactly a month and a half ago. Some had chalked it up to being some sort of flux caused by the nearby Feizium gate. Bending space would have its consequences after all, and it appeared that no one said that it didn’t pose itself as a threat. These things would happen, and they usually worked themselves out eventually.

Hamash clicked the Miniscreen off and looked up as she was entering the large hangar bay. If the anomaly was going to be a problem, Kal would be able to detect it ahead of time and he would notify her. He was naturally more perceptive than she was when it came to things like this.

Wow, she thought, have I really started to rely on him so much? She watched the other pilots jumping into their ships or making adjustments to them. They didn’t have AI to act as a co-pilot; they were still somewhat new, and Hamash was one of the few to be selected for the early testing. She remembered how much time she would spent shifting through documents and job details, but now Kal did most of that. He’d just tell her that he had found a job, they’d be off. Was she already soft?

No, she thought firmly. She could easily maneuver any other pilot she’d ever known. She had an impressive record for someone her age, and other pilots agreed.

She pushed those thoughts away as she arrived at her ship. The work crew perked up as she came close and gave a little wave. “Just about done here,” one of them chimed.

Hamash climbed the docking stairs and opened the cockpit, finding her flight over-suit on the seat. It was baggy and hung loose, as if it were made for someone four times her size. But with a touch of the shoulder pad, it contracted to fit snugly around her body.

The workers cleared off from beneath her ship, waving her to let her know that the piece was installed. Hamash pressed her earring, and put on the helmet that complemented the suit. “Kal, check to make sure the fuse was installed correctly please.”

“Sure thing, Jenny.”

She snickered at that. Just the other day, Hamash told Kal that he could use her first name. He was quite taken by it, and even seemed excited to use it. She thought that it was only right after the many jobs they had done together. He had become very reliable, and proved himself to be an excellent partner for her. When she was rash, he was cautious. He was what Hamash wasn’t, which gave her another perspective to everything. But of course, they tended to contradict and argue every now and then.

Kal remade connection as she was done with the boots. “All seems to function well. Ready for take off?”

“Yes,” she said. Hamash stepped into the cockpit and sat down. The controls and switch lit up around her, and a dull hum started beneath her. The clicking behind her meant that the seat was securing her into place. 

Once the ship was pressurized, Kal disconnected the port cable. “All clear, Jenny.”

Hamash gently pulled up on the controls, and twisted the ship towards the exit. Her Sparrowfly was small and light, making the steering sensitive. Some said that it was hard to pilot, but Hamash felt like it gave her an unrivaled level of control. The ship moved with her movements, feeling as natural to her as walking.

She cleared the hangar shielding. Oddly, she always felt more at home out in the open space, where there were no restrictions or no walls to box her in. Those who hadn’t flown in open space could never understand this amazing sense of freedom.

In the upper right corner of her view, the anterior camera showed the station drifting away. It continued its orbit around Mars. As always, with freedom came the feeling of isolation. Everything she owned was on that station, and she was going to travel light years away from it all.

She followed the course that Kal had charted on the nav towards the fourth Feizium Warp Gate. “Kal, which gate are we passing through once we’re in Interspace?”

“Well, Gate 3 goes directly to the Plantar section, but it seems like there’s a gravity anomaly somewhat close to it. They’re saying that we should try to use another gate if possible.”

“Yeah I read about the anomaly. It sounds like it’s a small one and shouldn’t be a problem,” Hamash replied. “The next closest gate is pretty far away.”

“Are you sure that’s wise, Jenny?”

“A gravity anomaly is no big deal, we’ll be fine.”

She pushed forward on the throttle, and the Sparrowfly sped away from the station. Within minutes, the Warp Gate appeared ahead. It grew bigger and bigger and within a few seconds it was bigger than the station.

No matter how many times she had gone through, she couldn’t help but admire the amazing architecture. Like a dreamcatcher, it was a ring with six spokes that extended from a square box in its center. There were lines that connected each spoke to the neighboring ones, making three concentric hexagons. Between the lines, it appeared to be void of any stars. Light didn’t pass through the gates, so space looked even darker when looking through the gate. Though they were made almost fifty years ago, they still looked futuristic and awe-inspiring.

She looked at the center, where the spokes met. That contained the Feizium core, which made the whole gate function. Refined Feizium was able to create a singularity of gravity with a powerful current. And with more electricity, it was strong enough to create a rift into what was named Interspace, another dimension where space was contracted, making long distance travel possible. Half a lightyear in Interspace was over 100 lightyears in normal space. Thanks to Interspace, humanity had been able to secure a large chunk of the galaxy.

“Kal, are we ready to pass through?” Hamash asked.

“Yes, all clear.”

Hamash slowed the Sparrowfly and steeled herself. She clenched her teeth as the electric humming of the gate grew louder. Here we go, she thought as she closed her eyes. Dizziness swept over Hamash and a strange, upside-down feeling rose in the pit of her stomach. 

The humming grew quiet. She could feel that she was Interspace. It felt wrong, like she didn’t belong. She opened her eyes. A mottled, dark purple replaced the blackness of space, which seemed to vibrate, like an optical illusion. It was hard to focus on, and made her eyes hurt if she stared for too long. Interspace felt hollow to her, maybe because there were no stars here, no planets to be seen. 

But to Hamash’s surprise, there was a large station hung above her. “Since when did they put a base here? That must be pretty new.”

“It’s very new, it’s been here for about a month in normal time.”

“Hail it and tell them that we’re only passing through.” She adjusted the ship towards the direction of the third gate. 

Static popped in her ears. A male voice said in her ear. “Pilot Hamash, this is the Head Director of Interspace Outpost 4. Your AI tells me you have plans to go through Gate 3. It is currently offline due to the spatial disturbances on the other side. I would advise you against travelling there.”

“Director, we’re aware of the anomaly there, sir, and we’re aware of the risk,” Hamash said. “We have a simple mission to fix a broken satellite on Carime-3. This is the closest gate, and we’ll be quick.”

There was a minute-long silence. “Do as you wish, pilot, but we’ve received word that the anomaly is growing stronger. Get back as soon as you can.”

“Yes sir, Thank you.” The connection broke.

Hamash pushed further on the throttle, towards the next gate. It came into view. Slowly, an inky black crawled from the center to the rim as the gate was powered on. Once it was ready, she approached the gate and passed through. Again she closed her eyes as they did. She sighed with relief as the comfortable feeling of her home dimension washed over her.

They accelerated to near-light speed and followed the projected course. Hamash wasn’t familiar with this section before; it was on the other side of the galaxy. The stars looked more compact, not nearly as spread out as they appeared back home. It was out here that the humans had made first contact with the Kallics, those many years ago. Apparently, they were trying to colonize the area, or something. But as soon as they were beaten, they had vanished from this section, leaving the humans to it. Why then were they sighted here recently? Maybe they were trying to see if they could resume their interests.

Soon enough, they approached the Carime System. A bright orange star was at its center, with 6 large planets orbiting. They were far from their sun, but their orbits were close. She aimed the ship towards the third planet. 

“Go ahead and place us in a high orbit.” 

“You got it, Jenny.” He took over and guided the ship.

She took the time to make sure she was ready for the landing. Her multi tool was fully charge with its new battery, so she put the holster at her hip. She reviewed the schematics of the satellite. From the looks of it, it was a simple model that was meant for just orbiting and relaying communications. First, they would have to assess the damage to see if it was even salvageable. Then, they would repair it and set it back into its original orbital path.

Kal slowed their approach and fired the engines enough to put the Sparrowfly in an orbit around the planet.

“Kal, scan the surface for any signs of the satellite crash.”

“Okay, give me a minute.”

Lights blinked on, and the ship sped up. A map popped up on a screen to her left, showing the rough map of Carime-3 that was included with the job details. A fine green line was sweeping across it.

A point flared up on the map. “There,” Kal said.

“Thanks, Kal. I’ll go ahead and land it, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” he said politely.

She turned the ship around and flared up the engines, slowing her ship and taking it out of orbit. She let it down next to the satellite. Once it was secure, she powered down the Sparrowfly. It was then that she looked over at the satellite.

“Uh, Kal?”


“Are you seeing the satellite right now?”

It sat there still. Some kind of landing struts were out, which weren’t included in the plans that she had been given. She had expected a small crater, or at least a dent in the soil, but the area around the satellite was perfectly fine. What the hell?

“Oh good. Nothing’s wrong with it. That makes our job easier.”

“But why is it just sitting there, Kal?”

“What are you suggesting?”

Hamash sighed. Sometimes, Kal had a hard time inferring conclusions from situations where there seemed to be nothing wrong. That was one of the few flaws that the AI had. “Not sure, but it’s really strange, isn’t it?” 

“Maybe there was a complication, and it landed to protect itself from further damage.”

Hamash couldn’t bring herself to believe that. This whole situation seemed off. “I’ll hop out and give it a check.” 

The air was removed from the cockpit, and a click told Hamash that she was clear to exit. At a swipe from Hamash, it opened and she climbed down. A cloud of fine gray dust puffed up as she landed.

Hamash walked around the satellite. “I don’t know…” Nothing seemed out of place. The solar panels were retracted, but they didn’t seem damaged. She checked the antenna, and found it fine. “What the hell. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Power it on, so I can run a diagnostic.”

She found the main panel hatch, and unfastened it with her multitool. She checked the power levels on the battery. They were nearly full. She followed the wires, and they didn’t seem corroded or cut.

Hamash then noticed that the main power switch inside was flipped off. She flicked it on, and the lights began to flicker and blink. Nothing seemed wrong. But then how did it land and turn off?

“I don’t like this, Kal. I can’t find anything wrong. It looks like the satellite landed itself and then powered off.” She plugged in a cable to the motherboard. “Check it out for yourself.”

“Ok, give me a minute.”

Hamash looked around more in the electrical compartment of the satellite. None of this makes any sense. Why would it land?

She examined the landing struts. The metal seemed different than the rest of the satellite. What kind of metal was that? She followed it from the ground up until it connected…

But it didn’t connect with the satellite.

“Jenny, there’s no landing protocol on the satellite.”

Someone – something – had placed this satellite here with care.

“I can’t find any record of someone ever-”

A voice shouted in her ear. “Pilot, report back NOW!” It was the Director of the Interspace Station.


“The anomaly is changing, it’s opening a-” Static cut the rest of the message.

“Kal, start the engine!” The static was loud, and she found herself shouting over it. She turned towards her Sparrowfly and in a few steps she was almost inside. She noticed however, that she had a shadow in front of her, even though the Carime Star was in front of her. It wasn’t until she had jumped into the cockpit, she saw where the blue light was coming from.

The anomaly had a swirling, blue light at its center. The mottled, warped coloring was familiar to her. Though it was blue, it looked just like Interspace.

As soon as the ship closed and clicked, Hamash fired off towards the Feizium Gate and the anomaly. She had to get through before they closed it. But her heart sank as they neared the anomaly.

There were ships pouring out of it. Massive ships. With cannons to match. It was a military fleet. It was identical to the ones she had seen in the videos of the war. The Kallics.

“Jenny, they’re getting close to the gate. Turn to the left, use the anomaly’s gravity to swing faster, and we’ll make it through before them.”

Hamash clenched her teeth and pushed the ship to go faster. Adjusting to the left, the gravity pulled them even faster. But even then, the Kallics had a lead on her.

“Damn it all,” she muttered under her breath. “We won’t make it.”

“But they won’t either, the gate should be closing soon, right?” Kal offered, sounding nervous.

But on the rim of the gate, something was different. The rim bulged slight on opposite ends. 

There were two Kallic ships already there. They were distorting the gate slightly. Suddenly, it clicked in Hamash’s head.

“They’re pinning the gate,” she said, almost not believing herself. “That must be it. They lured us here for us to open the gate, and they’ve pinned it open somehow.”

“Of course, they’re going to attack through our own gates” Kal said.

Then she saw an opening. A chance. It was very, very risky. But still possible. “Unless we blow it up. Prime the cannon.” She turned the controls and slowed down.

What?! I can’t let you do that, Jenny! It’s too risky! Hamash had never imagined an AI getting outraged.

“Too bad, we’re doing it. I’m the pilot.”

“They’d shoot us down quick. We should get away, now.” His voice was firm.

“And let them through? This is the only way we could save our home. Our home, Kal,” she stressed, hoping that would sway him. “Just trust me, Kal, I can do it. If anyone could, you know it’s me. Prime the cannon.” 

The seconds it took for him to respond drew out, feeling like minutes.

“Please. I can do it.”

“Regardless, it’s against protocol.”

“Kal,” she pleaded. “Trust me.”

He sighed. An exasperated one that sounded so very human. “Okay, Jenny.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Kal.” She swiveled back, and went as fast as the Sparrowfly could. She weaved between the Kallic ships, dodging their lasers. Some smaller ships around her took the hits instead, and they exploded.

“Can you send a video of their fleet back to the Interspace Station?”

“No, there’s too much interference.”

“Well, let’s hope they’re prepared for all this.”

She held the ship straight on her target, slowed down as much as she dared. She took a deep breath, letting it stay in her lungs. She let it out slowly, and watched as the shot opened up. The Feizium center. 

She clicked the trigger. The violet beam of energy barely glanced the square in the middle. But it was enough.

The explosions travelled along the spokes, and the ring imploded silently in space. The twisted Interspace hole contracted and was sealed. A shockwave burst through the Kallic ships that were closest to the gate. Some of them exploded. Hamash sat back, sighing in relief as the small ripple hit the Sparrowfly, which she now stopped.

“Jenny, you did it. You actually did it.”

Hamash looked around. Oddly, the Kallics were stopped, as if stunned by what had happened. 

“What do we do now?” He sounded worried.

She shrugged. “They’ll probably outrun us now that we’re in the middle of them.” 

A bigger Kallic ship was drifting out of control, it appeared. They must not have been able to handle Interspace distortions. 

“Maybe they won’t,” Kal said. A charted course popped up on the screen, blinking.

“We’ll take that risk too then, I guess,” Hamash said.