Authors: Charles Barouch
Tags: #Science Fiction Adventure
Tiago looked at the design. It was an easy build, for the most part. The only tweak – a big tweak, granted – was the construction of the remote manager which would allow the brainy maker to control the brainless one. He'd still have to mod the original maker to hook up that side of the remote… he pulled up the code and began planning. He made a mental note to ask the natives – assuming they found natives – about resources like gallium. There was room to spare in the ship's hold.
Maybe, he thought, I stole the ship before they could load up all the raw materials. The missing elements were used by many of the systems. It made no sense to intentionally limit the ability of the colony ship to repair itself. He could have chosen to disassemble some of the existing equipment, there certainly was a lot of it, but he wasn't sure what he would need. Besides, there were several safeguards built into the maker to stop that. The code referenced what it called auto-cannibalism protocols; the rules regarding when a maker could and couldn't deconstruct existing equipment. It looked like overriding that would require either a few hundred hours of recoding or
he could blow a hole in the hull of the ship
spanned three or more decks. Damage that big seemed to trigger a series of overrides on the protocol.
There were still a lot of details to work out before he could even start building the second maker unit, but Tiago felt like he had a clear idea of how to proceed. He made some notes, saved his working session, and laid back for a nap.
* * *
"Don't tell me that you don't have blood on your hands. I killed them to further our cause," Quintrell screamed.
Chapter Three: Making New Friends
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 613.
My nap turned into a full sleep. I feel more alive and alert than I have in months. My body still hurts from the gym, but I'm coping with the pain. Today I start developing the external-facing maker unit. I wonder how Audra will feel about having a multiple-body experience. I'm not comfortable using any other sim. I haven't scrubbed the propaganda from the others.
Tiago showered, dressed, and headed for the gym. He took a much more abbreviated workout this time. He detoured to the galley and had his standard food order number four, substituting coffee for the usual nutrient drink. Caffeine was a rare addition to his diet. He was in a very good mood. That ended abruptly when he stepped off the lift and onto the bridge.
Audra was collapsed at her station. Had she ever been alive, he would have thought her dead. A lifetime of reflexes made him put his back to the wall and scan for an assailant. There was none. He was the only living thing on the bridge. Cautiously, he left the comfort of the wall and approached the body. What now, he thought? It's not like I can check for a pulse.
He touched her shoulder and she sat up, as if nothing had ever been wrong.
"Were you asleep?" he asked, at a loss for a better question.
"This body has a MTBSF of just over two hundred hours, continuous use, as best as I could estimate. Without a digestive system, this body's lifecycle is very limited. I was conserving active use to extend it," Six-six-four said.
"Why didn't the computer alert you that I was coming?" he asked, hoping to avoid finding her 'dead' every time he returned to the bridge.
"I can't ask the computer to do things," she reminded him.
She had the same annoyed tone that he had when discussing that subject. Had he heard it from her a month ago, he'd have assumed it was simple mimicry. Now, he knew it was genuine frustration. It looked like 'dead' Audra might be a regular feature of his trips to the bridge.
"Ready to start planning the second maker unit?" she asked.
"Mostly ready," Tiago said.
Her disappointment was obvious. Without a word, she communicated her sense of futility. The ship wouldn't respond to her and he hadn't considered her feelings – again. Maybe he wasn't ready for people. Her range of emotions was very new. He might forgive himself for not remembering how much she'd changed. Thinking of her as 'people' used to be wishful thinking. Still, she was all the practice he was likely to get before meeting the theoretical natives.
"Any change in the radio chatter?" he asked her, deflecting.
"I'll check," she said flatly.
Tiago sat in the captain's chair and called up his plans for the new maker unit. He started to adjust one of his preliminary calculations, and then stopped, considering a possibility.
"Audra? When you're done with that, I have some rough spots in my maker plan. Think you can give them a going over?" he asked.
Her smile showed that she appreciated the gesture, but it was far from cheery. Her emotions were not simple reflexes. She had memory, continuity, and context. Still not human, but getting closer. He tried to contrast it with the other aspects of her existence: She doesn't really sleep, she doesn't eat, she doesn't sweat, or poop, or do any of a million other inconvenient things that punctuate the lives of real people. Her lifespan was effectively infinite, but her body was spec-rated for less than ten days. It reminded him of a crazy line from a book his mother had read to him when he was a child: "She was older than the stars but younger than the planets." Tiago couldn't remember the rest of it. He'd have to see if the computer had any children's books. It was supposed to have been a colony ship, so it was possible. He wondered if it, or any story from his childhood, had been rated acceptable by the government censors who approved the content of the ship's library.
"Captain, I have that analysis," Six-six-four said.
"You called me captain?" Tiago asked.
"Did I? I guess I should. It's a good habit if we actually get visitors. Anyway, I have the analysis," she said.
Captain. He thought about that. Was he ready to transition from Tiago to Captain Salazar? Alone, he'd needed no titles. With Audra, first names were fine. He'd never actually given her a last name. Another thing for the "to do" list. First impressions were important. If he was meeting new people, introducing himself as Captain Salazar might be the right way to start. Of course, his estimation was based on how humans interacted. Who knew what might be walking, flying, hopping or crawling below? Intelligence might not look human. It might not think as he did.
"Shall I wait?" she asked.
"Sorry. Day dreaming. Let's get to it, Lieutenant Manuel," Tiago said.
"I have a last name, now? Where did that come from?" She asked.
"Same person I took your first name from," Tiago admitted. "She was Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French, if I recall."
"Old girlfriend?" she asked, amused.
"I wasn't… it didn't work like that. It's just a name. I can change it," Tiago said.
"Don't. Please. So, did she look like me? I know you made a number of appearance changes when you adapted me from my original model," Six-six-four asked.
"No," he lied. "Back to the analysis, Lieutenant?"
"No change in the chatter. No abnormal change, that is. These are not looped recordings, so there are changes. The translator analysis says that they aren't transmitting speech, they are sending text."
"If they are, it's a lousy code. No sign of variant keys. It all translates consistently," Six-six-four reported.
"Video? Holo?" Tiago asked.
"No. Just text. Most of it seems to be environmental reports: Wind, crop health, migratory animal patterns, rainfall, soil density, and the like," Six-six-four said.
"No entertainment? No gossip? I'd expect a Clophernial-six level civ to use radio for social purposes as well as information," Tiago said.
With three clicks and a quick hand gesture, she tagged and pushed the data to his station. He pushed the maker plan over to her station so that she'd have something to do. Her analysis seemed reasonable. He wondered if this was a machine intelligence or the technological equivalent of a hive mind. The lack of social content depressed him. He didn't yearn just for intelligent life, he hoped for
life. If these transmissions offered a realistic measure of the theoretical natives' cultural offerings, he was much better off chatting with the sims.
While Tiago shifted the raw data and cross-checked Six-six-four's conclusions, she reviewed his plans. Some of his logical leaps were beyond her. Six-six-four focused on the parts that she could fathom instead of trying to understand how he'd arrived at a given idea. She could feel her ability to make partial-data leaps growing. AI always had some of that built-in, but her capacity was expanding in new ways. She was flexible enough in her thinking to begin to resent his changes. He was literally playing with her emotions, with her reasoning, with her identity. The new her felt more complete. She knew she should be grateful, but that wasn't the emotion she felt.
The paradox, which wasn't lost on her, was that having feelings at all was something she owed to him. Being nearly human was nearly maddening. She wondered what that meant regarding those who were fully human.
"Incoming missiles," the computer announced.
Chapter Four: Missiles
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 613 continued.
Computer generated entry stub: Incoming missiles.
"Interrogative. How long?" Tiago said.
"Averaging twenty-five and a quarter feet. Longest missile is approximately thirty feet," the computer said.
"Audra, that's why I need nuances in battle! Interrogative. How long until missile impact?"
"Three minutes until missiles will impact forward shields. Estimated damage, none," the computer said.
"Audra, take the defense station. I'll take communications. Interrogative, can we send them a message saying we are friendly?" Tiago asked.
"Unknown," the computer said.
Tiago had no idea what that answer meant. He saved his workstation instance and brought up the language analysis results. He cobbled together a sentence from the words available. A quick lex-parse seemed to indicate that his message was grammatically consistent with the scanned messages. It was the best he could do. He sent it.
"I have a lock on all the incoming missiles," Six-six-four said. "Second wave just launched from the closest moon."
"Interrogative. I thought you said they weren't aware of us?" Tiago asked.
"No scans from the surface," the computer replied.
Defenses on the moons. Tiago hadn't thought to ask. He had only told
to watch for signs of detection from the surface. Perhaps if this had been a military ship, then maybe the protocols might have auto-expanded his request. It wasn't, the parameters weren't expanded, and the only good news was that the attacker's tech was low enough for the shields to be sufficient protection. Unless they had a lot more missiles or bigger tech yet to come into play.
Tiago also realized that he'd made an stupid assumption. Scans weren't needed to see the ship. A telescope was sufficient technology for seeing a ship three miles in diameter. The chance that
would spot a telescope, even if it were looking for it, were small. The chance that a telescope would spot the ship... that was much more possible. He broke out of those thoughts. He had to deal with the missiles now.
"No sign of that, Captain. I think it might just be these two salvos. Thirty-four missiles incoming, total. Still scanning," Six-six-four replied.
"I'm guessing we know the composition of the missiles. Nothing nuclear, right? I mean this is a moderately low tech world."
"One minute to first wave impact. Conventional explosives. The guidance makes me want to raise our tech estimate to Clophernial-eight," Six-six-four said.
"Can we disable the missiles instead of letting them splat on the shields?" Tiago asked.
"Targeting guidance with forward lasers," Audra said.
"No, target propulsion," Tiago said.
Audra set about her task. In the back of his mind, the discontinuity jarred him. The computer let her fire missiles and lasers but it wouldn't let her operate the lift. There was something more to this tangle of prohibitions. He'd have to figure that out before it yielded a fatal surprise.
"We disabled thirty. Four impacted. Reading no damage. No, update that.
impacts. Looks like one of the disabled missiles drifted into the shields, Captain," Six-six-four said.
"I'm going exo-vehicular, you have the command," he said.
"Can't command," she said.
"Right. Damn. Interrogative. Transfer command to repair shuttle three. I'll run the ship from exo," he said.
If he'd turned around, he would have seen Audra trying to decide if she should try to stop him. Not knowing why he was going exo – going when nothing was damaged – left her unable to process an answer. Going exo while there might still be more incoming made no sense either. He entered the lift as she tried to sort all of this out.
Audra turned on the interior cameras and keyed them to his motion. The lift descended to the correct floor. She watched him try to walk out of the lift. The doors would not open.