Authors: Charles Barouch
Tags: #Science Fiction Adventure
"Interrogative. Why won't the doors open?" Tiago said.
"Air recyclers were shut down. Atmosphere was reduced below fifty percent," the computer said.
"Interrogative. Restore standard environmental settings to cargo bay one," Tiago said.
"Forty seconds until safe levels. Three minutes for complete restoration," the computer said.
When Tiago entered the cargo bay, Six-six-four continued to watch him. Something interfered with her gaining access to the interior shuttle cameras. Everything thing she tried came back 'equipment not responding.' She tried the communications system.
"I'm not seeing you," she said.
"Don't worry about it," Tiago replied.
The shuttle could hold a crew of six, if they didn't need much equipment. It had more than enough room for Tiago alone. He slipped into the pilot's seat. He wasn't a trained pilot, but these things pretty much flew themselves. He reached over to the co-pilot's seat and brought up the
command console. He could now run the repair ship and the
, both, from here.
"RS3. We need to go exo. Interrogative. This shuttle needs access to cargo airlock one," he said.
The ship taxied toward the exit and was soon outside the ship. Tiago found a spot close to where the remaining missiles were drifting.
"RS3. Tether to surface. Interrogative. Shut down forward shields. RS3. Propel to within two feet of nearest missile. RS3. Collect missile with left repair claw," Tiago said, issuing one command after another.
He got twenty of them before the limits of the tether made the remaining collection impractical. He could have instructed
to move forward, but he had gathered enough for his needs. He issued the commands necessary to return to the cargo bay. Once inside, he headed back to the bridge.
"Why did you bring live ordnance onto the ship? Isn't that dangerous?" Audra asked, concerned.
"They can't remote trigger with the shields up. Perfectly safe," Tiago said.
"You didn't put the shields back up," Audra said.
"Interrogative. Transfer command to bridge. Interrogative. Shields up," Tiago said.
He and Six-six-four sat and stared at each other for a long moment. The ship could survive that sort of damage; cargo bays are designed to handle transport accidents involving weapons. Still, no one wants to blow a hole in their ship. Finally, she broke the silence.
"Why did you bring the missiles on board?" Audra asked.
"They have chips for brains. We can salvage raw materials not present in the ship's stores. This attack on the
was very convenient," Tiago said.
"That's why you didn't want me targeting the guidance," Six-six-four said. "I still can't think like a human."
"I'm just glad they stopped attacking. Interrogative. Any other signs of response from the planet or the moons? Interrogative. Any sign of reaction from anywhere within short sensor range?" Tiago asked.
"Nearest moon is scanning us from fifteen minutes latitude, three point two five minutes longitude," the computer said.
"What did you say to them?" Six-six-four asked.
"What?" Tiago replied.
"The transmission. You sent something and they stopped sending missiles. What did you say?" Audra clarified.
"I only had the words they had in their transmissions. I simply said that we weren't a threat," Tiago said. "Technically, I said, this bug does not eat of these crops."
Audra's expression went blank. She could not process this. Too many new logic leaps. Tiago tried not to be alarmed. If she was going to get flaky, it was better that it happened now. Earlier there'd been combat, later there might be first contact. He left her to her paralysis. Instead, he turned his attention to the technology the increasingly-less-theoretical natives were using.
The radio was at least level C-Six, the missiles and scanner appeared to be C7 or C8. He scanned for artificial satellites and found none. That was inconsistent to his mind. He scanned the visible part of the planet for urban areas. None. Large energy processing and distribution facilities. None. Aesthetic elements like gardens of non-edible plants, or elaborate, non-utilitarian, architecture. None.
He began to wonder if the old saying 'lights on but nobody's home' applied to this world. Still, even if he was encountering the automatics-only remnants of a dead civilization, he'd expect signs of cites, even ruined ones. This was something else. At least it wasn't shooting at him anymore.
"Interrogative. How many non-terrestrial civilizations has Earth found?" Tiago asked.
"There are no records matching that query," the computer replied.
"Interrogative. Was that search restricted by any protocols?" Tiago asked.
"A list of relevant protocols is being pushed to your currently open workspace," the computer said.
As he looked over the list, trying to make sense of the cryptic names of the protocols – those that had names instead of numbers – Audra spoke.
"How long was I out?" she said.
"Well under an hour," Tiago said.
"I thought you weren't going to deconstruct me again," Six-six-four said sullenly.
"I didn't. You had some sort of episode," Tiago said. "I'm guessing you auto-rebooted."
Audra turned back toward her station. She knew there was a hole in her memory. The workspace open before her wasn't as she expected it. Something must have corrupted on shutdown. She did a diff between the expected and actual state of the workspace. She rebooted again. Tiago's back was to her as he studied his own station. As she came back on-line, she noticed that the open workspace before her wasn't as expected. . She did a diff. She rebooted again.
Tiago spotted it by the twelfth reboot. He had turned to ask her something and saw that she was down again. As he got up and walked over to her, the thirteenth and fourteenth reboots happened. The cycle was getting faster.
"Interrogative. Suspend processing on instantiated sim Six-six-four. Do not disassemble," Tiago said.
Chapter Five: Six-six-four's Problem
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 614.
The missile volleys resumed, but nothing is getting through our defenses. When I'm on the bridge during a barrage, I target propulsion and then collect what I can. When I'm off the bridge, the shields are more than enough to handle matters.
My new routine is: Sleep, gym, food, defense checks, scan for life, food, and work on Audra. I've been trying to figure out her glitch. Whatever it is, it does not appear to be obvious. I won't reboot her until I'm reasonably sure it's fixed. Seeing her go slack, over and over, is really unnerving.
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 615.
The missile volleys have stopped, at least for now. I wonder if they've run out. I'm settling in to my new routine. The gym is hurting less and less. I'm starting to feel stronger instead of weaker after each session. Audra is still a mystery. In the past, I would have just reset her, but now if feels wrong. I'm going to have to set a deadline. If I can't fix her by Ship's Day 620, a reset will be required.
Tiago finished eating and started walking from the galley to the central lift. He was angry with himself that there was no progress on Six-six-four's glitch. He'd found and fixed a number of minor errors, but nothing which explained her looping crash. He'd even found the source of her 'too much a lot' speaking error. It was small comfort.
He arrived on the bridge and checked the damage reports. Zeroes all the way around. The shields could handle this level of attack, at this frequency, for months without draining. So long as he was this close to a star, he could probably recharge the shields faster than the missiles reduced them. That effectively meant that he could keep doing this until equipment failure eventually caused a problem. MTBSF numbers suggested that he could sleep through several decades of this before failure was an issue.
His own mental state was a more immediate concern. No real people for company, no Six-six-four, and no sign of people on the planet. There were plenty of other sims, but they needed work before he could tolerate them. He thought about simply instantiating an earlier version of Six-six-four, pre-glitch, but that felt wrong. That's when it struck him. He knew why she was glitching.
"Interrogative. Save off Audra's work area. Interrogative. Belay that. Interrogative. Remove the notes on the matter unit from her work area. Interrogative. Now save off Audra's work area. Reboot, Audra," Tiago said.
"How long was I out?" she said.
"Too long," Tiago said.
"I thought you weren't going to deconstruct me again," Six-six-four said sullenly.
"I didn't. You had some sort of episode," Tiago said. "I fixed it, but it took time."
"I don't want you tinkering with me anymore."
"If I didn't, you'd be stuck in an infinite reboot loop."
"I'd rather suffer for who I am than be forced to change," Six-six-four said.
Tiago didn't program that into her. He wouldn't know how. This wasn't a simple survival directive, a default protocol to protect the hardware. She was protecting her sense of self. Could he call it a soul? It was the only word he knew which fit at all. Tiago marveled at how a rational, scientific man like himself could fall back to mysticism so quickly. Still, the evidence was in front of him. She had become something new.
It wasn't a complete surprise. The glitch was all tied up with her new awareness. The reboot was triggered each time she looked at his plan for the matter unit. There was only one thing on that plan which could trigger a shutdown. The plan called for him to deploy multiple instances of Audra on the surface. He imagined facing a complete proof of his own lack of uniqueness. Science told him that he was the result of chemicals, sequences, sensory impressions, and the like. He could be re-invented by following that formula – if you only looked at it scientifically. For Audra, replication was easier. She was designed to be instanced. Each time she rebooted, she went back to her last task, reviewing his plan for the second maker. She looked, and shock –or what passed for shock in a sim – followed. Reboot. Repeat.
Even knowing that, he was still surprised at the poetry of her statement. Audra was no longer Six-six-four in any useful sense. She was something new. Tiago felt the weight of that responsibility. Creating life, to his mind, created an obligation to that life. He thought about the failure rate she'd calculated. When this instance of her body failed, would she expect him to simply let her fade?
"We are still under attack," Audra said.
"Don't you think we should do something about that?" Audra asked.
"I was busy fixing you. I collected a lot of missiles, as well. I'll have to start disassembling them soon," he said in a dismissive tone.
"Did you find the source?" she asked.
"I've been scanning the planet since before you… why are you laughing?"
"Where are the missiles coming from, Tiago? This moon, right? Where haven't you been scanning? This moon, right? Tiago Salazar, stupid genius," she said.
"I don't like the sound of that, Audra. Unless we plan on blowing up the source of the attacks, who cares what's on any of the moons? I want to find the civilization which controls the missiles and convince them that we are peaceful. Blowing up their defenses will not help us make that case."
"What makes you think the civilization isn't on this moon?" she asked.
"Why live on a moon if the food is down there?"
"Maybe they deliver it up by shuttle? Maybe they don't need food. I don't," she said.
"Have we detected shuttles?"
"No," she admitted.
"Then back to my point. Why grow it? Why use radio solely to talk about it and worry about what might disrupt it?"
"Would it hurt to try scanning the moon?" she asked.
Chapter Six: Finding Life
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 615 continued.
I left Audra to work on the moon scans. I headed down to the cargo bay to start disassembling the missiles. I know that I could assign messenger bots to do it, but I really don't use them more than I must. It sounds crazy for a man who lives inside a colony ship
a massive machine
to say this, but I'm not a big fan of technology. I know that, as a programmer, I'm supposed to love it, but I don't. There's something amazing about it, but at
same time, it also reduces us. I don't like being less. I want to be so much more.
Tiago put the explosive segments of the missiles back into the shuttle. He'd have to jettison them later. The guidance systems were stacked on the floor of the cargo bay. Once he had a dozen done, he elected to stop for the day.
"Interrogative. Disassemble these guidance segments. Interrogative. Please give me a percentage of the elements recovered relative to the requirements of plan Tiago-eight-eight-six-three."
He watched the bits of missile being unmade. He wished he could do the same with the explosive elements. It was one of those 'probably safe' ideas. He feared accidentally triggering a bomb by pulling bits out in the wrong order. If he had needed those materials, he might have risked it.