Authors: Charles Barouch
Tags: #Science Fiction Adventure
"That's what us sims are for, Tiago. When a ship is in combat, you want literal. When the ship is in a meteor storm, you don't want it guessing nuances. The ship AI is slanted toward that sort of work. If you'd just leave one of us up and running, or use one of us as a holo, or even as a screenie, you'd have what you want," Six-six-four said.
She sounded annoyed. Tiago didn't remember programming that in, but AI programming was intentionally fuzzy. Lots of things creep in where you don't expect them. It makes them seem more human. The good thing about annoyance was that it was an honest emotion – a sign that the sim was still moving closer to human – and that made him hesitate about contact. Maybe he could spend the rest of his days refining the programs on each sim. He could do worse than to die of old age, surrounded by two hundred sixteen friends.
"Audra, why two hundred and sixteen? It isn't a space issue, you only take up space when I instantiate you. Why not an even two hundred? Or maybe a thousand? What's so special about two hundred and sixteen?" Tiago asked.
"That's the number of Myers-Briggs-Hemmings personality variants," Six-six-four said.
"You mean, if I look up six-six-four on the personality matrix, I'd know your key design parameters?"
"No, you've modified me too much. You'd know my root parameters," Six-six-four said.
"Interrogative. How many Myers-Briggs-Hemmings scores are possible?" Tiago said, looking to confirm the error he just spotted.
"Sixteen core personalities, with fourteen sub-variants," the computer said.
"Your count is eight short, Audra. Is that a glitch?" Tiago asked.
"No. Eight of the rule sets ended badly in development. They are walled off," Six-six-four said.
She seemed disturbed by the thought. Tiago watched that unease ripple through her speech pattern and her body language. More and more human, but never human enough for him. Walled off, he realized was different from deleted. His computer had two hundred and twenty five – including the ship computer's flat one – personalities. Eight were, effectively, insane.
Then he thought about the fact that one of the sane ones elected to dose him with sleeping gas without his consent. On that scale, how nuts were the walled-off eight, he wondered. It was a thought which would have to wait for another day.
"Audra, please do a complete review of the scans. I'll be in the gym, making myself ready to 'muck in the mud' as you put it," Tiago said.
He detoured on his way to the gym to stop at his quarters. A change of clothes and a quick run through the ship's logs later, he was finally off to the gym.
Chapter Two: Planning a Trip
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 612.
Several days since my last post. Reviewing the logs, I can see that I'm losing track of time. It doesn't help that the computer drugged me, but that was just this once. The rest of the gaps are mine. I have to own them. We found possible signs of a civilization. Presence of radio waves puts them at least at a six on the Clophernial scale. After the gym, I'll go over the scans with Audra and see if we can pin down any meaningful details.
The primary gym consisted of a set of two hundred immersive couches; each one identical down to the dark blue of the faux-leather fabric and the angular white steel frame. A ship as big as the
couldn't spare the room needed for a gym which would let two thousand colonists engage in real exercise, however, the immersion systems allowed for a wider variety of exercise. Because the couches were common on Earth, and therefore familiar, they were an efficient alternative to building ski slopes, climbing walls, and all sorts of other equipment. There were six other gyms scattered throughout the ship, but this was the closest. The others lay in areas where Tiago had already turned down the atmospherics.
One hundred and ninety-nine couches were empty; one held Tiago. Despite being called a couch, it was designed more like a tanning bed. Using it required him to climb in and lay down inside of it. The servos silently pushed at him from above and below. He let the couch slide its thin, integrated helmet onto his head. He was ready for his workout.
The couch manipulated his muscles while the computer ran his mind through a grueling virtual experience in what appeared to be a traditional gym. If Tiago was still the man he was when he boarded the ship, this would have been a light-to-medium workout. For the man he was now, six hundred and change days in, it was close to torture. He endured it as penance for his descent into laziness. Given the amount of changes and updates he had been making to the ship and the sims, few would call him lazy, but that's how Tiago saw himself.
The machine switched itself to cool-down mode when the transmission from the bridge broke into the VR. He was deeply grateful to Audra for the call.
"Scans complete. Should I send the details into the VR interface?" she asked.
"No," he said quickly. "I'll come up on deck to discus them."
Getting out of the couch was painful. He tried to do it too fast. Catching himself on another of the couches as he nearly fell, he had to stop walking for a few minutes, letting himself recover. The gym wasn't magic; he couldn't undo all the atrophy in one session. He'd need to make workouts part of his routine. That thought made him laugh. First, he'd need to develop a routine before he could add to it. Life aboard
had changed him.
On Earth, he'd been a creature of habits and schedules. It made him stand out above the crowd of software engineers. The Department of Future Security didn't understand the infinite details of the work he did. They
understand discipline. While he should have been promoted for his job-specific skills, he was promoted because he looked like what management thought he should look like.
Once he went on the run, he'd shed all of that. There was no one to impress here. Tiago was, in his bones and in his secret heart, a con man, the biggest victim of his con being himself. He had talked himself into being promotable. He had talked himself into being diligent. On the way to faking it until he was making it, Tiago had accidentally become a brilliant engineer.
He gathered his strength and got back to the business of making it to the lift. There really wasn't a rush, he thought. It wasn't like Audra had somewhere else to be. There wasn't another meeting coming up in an hour. Until recently, he would have assumed that she wouldn't be impatient, either. As her personality was evolving, her reactions were becoming more human. Maybe there
a reason to rush.
Audra was his only friend. He should be respectful of that. After all, he was going to (maybe, possibly, hopefully) meet other people again. To get what he wanted, he'd have to think beyond himself. Audra was, ultimately, practice. He could reset her if he screwed up. That wasn't how real people worked.
"I don't need to learn how to deal with others," he muttered to himself. "I need to remember what I already know. This is just about regaining old habits. I can do this. I can."
* * *
He stepped off the lift, doing his best to hide the pain. He didn't know if Audra was evolved enough to mock him, but her tone before he went down to the gym seemed to be showing all the signs. Gingerly, he eased himself into the captain's chair while her back was still turned. He managed to avoid making a small groaning sound as his knees protested. It was a small victory.
"Audra, how'd we do?" Tiago asked.
"There are real broadcasts. I need to you ask the ship to try and translate," Six-six-four said.
"I hate this. Interrogative. Can we run the broadcasts through the translator?" Tiago asked, exasperated.
"Priority?" the computer asked.
"Normal. Interrogative. I need that atmospheric study," Tiago said.
"I have that ready for you," Six-six-four interrupted.
"Interrogative. Belay that. Sorry, Audra. How does it look?"
Tiago realized just how out of practice he'd gotten. What he'd done was rude. You don't ask someone to do an analysis and then forget you'd done so. She'd invested time in the task. He listened as Audra recited the pertinent data. The atmosphere was just on the far edge of breathable. The nitrogen balance was too high. There was a touch more sulfur in the air than human lungs could manage. If the planet had people, they might be able to breathe on the ship, but Tiago couldn't breathe on the surface.
To be exact, he could breathe on the surface, but not for long. Audra's model – which he had not asked her to construct – indicated that he might last up to an hour before the damage would be irreversible. She showed him the catalog of environmental suits the ship could generate. She also recommended that he get a full med scan before trying the surface, even with protection. Her level of independent action was concerning. So far, it was all to the good, but still, it was concerning.
"Good work, Audra. Interrogative. I'm done with…"
"Please don't," Six-six-four said.
"Interrogative. Belay that," Tiago said as he looked over at Audra appraisingly.
"I know it's stupid. It isn't like you're killing me or anything. I'm still around, just not… physical," Audra said.
He heard the frustration and hopelessness in her voice. He saw them in how she carried herself. Empathy – he felt empathy for a sim, for an
of a sim – when the hell did that happen? Maybe, he thought, it was time to start calling her Six-six-four again. This may have gone too far.
"Interrogative. Please assign quarters for Audra," Tiago said.
"Room two assigned to Six-six-four instance designated Audra," the computer said.
"I can just stay on the bridge," she said. "I don't need to sleep. I don't sweat, so I don't need to change clothes or wash unless something is spilled on me."
He could hear what that comment cost her. She wanted to indulge his fantasy that she was real. Despite that, she couldn't just go along. Six-six-four just wasn't designed that way. He wondered how much of that was her original programming and how much he'd imposed upon her. He'd never intended to make her so capable of nuance and complexity. Somehow, he'd either released hidden aspects of her design or, perhaps, unconsciously augmented her to become what she was now. He wouldn't be going back to calling her Six-six-four.
"I like to have the bridge to myself sometimes," Tiago said.
It was true and it was easier than saying all the other things he wanted to say. Audra took that as dismissal. She saved her analysis session and got up to leave. She stopped at the door for the lift.
"Tiago, I can't call for the lift," she said.
"Interrogative. Provide Audra lift access so she can come and go from her quarters," Tiago said.
"Sims cannot directly make requests. She will not be able to call the lift to come back to the bridge," the computer said.
"Audra, return to station. I'll fix this later."
Since she was effectively stuck on the bridge, Tiago left instead. He sat in his quarters, nursing his multitude of body aches, and thought about the ship/sim separation. Since sims weren't designed to be incarnated in solid bodies – that was one of his changes – several things Audra could do were not envisioned when
was designed. That meant that the rules which stopped her from physically using the lift were part of the general prohibition against letting sims directly order the ship's computer. He still couldn't grasp why those rules were ever put into place.
The government generally trusted its computers far more than it trusted its citizens. Tiago wondered if one of the software engineers had sneaked these changes in to protect the crew or the colonists. It didn't track for him. The changes were embedded in far too many programs to be the work of one lone engineer. Moreover, it would have shown up in testing and been pulled out, he reasoned. Knowing why it was put in would help him decide if there was a danger in his removing it. He put that aside. It was too big a job to contemplate right now.
"Interrogative. Contact Audra," Tiago said.
"Audra here," Six-six-four responded.
"Audra, what if we instantiate a sim on the planet to perform a survey?" Tiago asked.
"We don't have any method of external matter assembly. There are strict limits on how far we can transmit the stream," she said. "Unless you've changed that, too?"
"I'm thinking of sending equipment to the surface so that we can do it locally. But I haven't done it yet. Up until now, I've only done software changes, not hardware. Well, not to hardware other than you. Can you run an analysis of the equipment we have and see what it would take?" Tiago asked.
"Negative. Calls for creativity beyond my capacity. I wish I could. If you do it, there are many points where I could assist," Six-six-four said.
"I'll get back to you. Tiago, out."
Limits piled on top of limits, he thought. He called up the plans for the maker unit. He couldn't simply instruct it to build another of itself. That wouldn't work. The maker units were designed as a backup for creating small parts or missing parts. The controlling, totalitarian government of his world had insisted on hobbling the makers to prevent everything Tiago was using them for presently. The maker didn't have any gallium or arsenic in ship's stores. Without those raw materials, he could build a 'brainless' maker
most of the maker's brains were in a virtual machine within the ship's computer, just as the sims were, but some of the functions were run locally
but not a complete unit. He looked at running both makers off of the one set of brains. It looked possible, especially since he was the only one issuing requests. A full crew and a full load of colonists would bring the current design to the breaking point without careful management.