Authors: Charles Barouch
Tags: #Science Fiction Adventure
"I'm going to walk you to the bridge, since you can't operate the lift and you don't have other quarters. Then, I'm going to my room to think. When I figure out how to make this right, I'll be back."
"Are we being attacked?" Six-six-four asked as he turned toward the lift.
"What? No! Why?" he asked.
"We are still over the moon, right?" She asked, sounding more like herself than before.
"Yes. I locked our position relative to the dome. We are in lunar synchronous orbit."
"They attacked – uselessly, but still an attack – when we approached the planet and the crops. Yet, this is apparently their home and there are no defenses?" Audra pointed out.
She looked at Tiago and watched the reactions play over his face. She could read it like a scanner output. He'd literally stopped thinking about the missiles. Once they were neither threat nor supply, they didn't exist for him. Their absence was unnoticed. Tiago's expression finally settled on embarrassment.
"How could I have missed that?"
"You don't do well alone," she replied. "Maybe you really do need people. Other people."
They stood there, in the cargo bay, looking at each other. Both of them were re-evaluating their companion. At first, it was a contemplative pause. It devolved into an uncomfortable silence. Audra finally broke it.
"Let's pretend I forgave you and get this solved. We can fight later," she said.
They walked to the lift and headed up. She expected him to go to the bridge. He didn't. He took her to his quarters.
"I have something to show you," he said.
The captain's quarters were more elaborate than the crew's. He had a bedroom, bathroom, and a study area, as they would, but he also had three other rooms. One of them was covered, floor to ceiling in paper – not wallpaper, writing paper – with words scribbled everywhere. She quickly read everything. Being a sim lent her abilities that were useful in assessing a room full of writing. These were her rules, some of them, at least.
"What happens when you make a change? Paper doesn't auto-update," Six-six-four pointed out.
"I know. This is as close as my human mind can come to seeing a big chunk of you at a time. I can't keep it all in my head, so I pay the price of constantly having to correct parts of it to reflect updates. I sometimes spend days in here, living inside of your parameters. I thought you deserved to see it. I guess it didn't feel like a violation to me before. Now that you've become so much more human, I feel like I should ask your permission. May I look at you like this? Bare and exposed?"
The sim's ability to draw on the ship's processors was limited by a mechanism called the governor. This was beyond her capacity for immediate response. The details of the pages she could parse. The emotions were more, much more, complex. He didn't ask her if it was accurate. That she could lie about. He asked how she felt.
She sat on a chair and let her sensors shut down. She left just enough motor and gyro functions to stop her body from falling over. In effect, she retreated from everything the shell gave her and pulled back into the computer. As her hearing faded, she heard him say: "Oh, no. Not again."
She thought that she would know a lot more about the nature of their relationship if she knew why he said that. She had shut down once before. He'd excised some part of her memory to fix it. There was a temptation to restore functions long enough to reassure him. She didn't. His question about her consent was more important. She realized that she was deriving pleasure from scaring him. Audra redirected all the emotional elements to the question and shuttered herself from the situation.
"Interrogative. What is the status of Six-six-four?" Tiago asked.
"Instantiated," came the reply.
"Interrogative. What is the status of Six-six-four's… um... mental process… Belay that. Is Six-six-four hung in a reboot loop?" Tiago asked.
"Interrogative. Six-six-four hung in a reboot loop?" Tiago asked. "This is like playing Simon Says."
"No. All processing is dedicated to cognition, emotion, and memory," the computer said.
He left her in the 'Audra room' and went to wash up. When he returned, she was still inert. With a small sigh, he called for dinner and ate his fake ham while he watched her do nothing, at least nothing physical. Absently, he wondered why he kept picking the same meals. Breakfast, when he had it, was always eggs, juice, toast, and tea. The only other meal, which was both lunch and dinner was usually standard order number four.
It didn't really matter. The computer balanced his nutrients regardless of the appearance, taste, and texture of the food. Any meal was, biologically, the same meal. Knowing that had robbed him of any desire to be experimental with his choices. He imagined going native on the planet below. There he'd have to relearn how to eat. With real food, those decisions became important. Tiago had plenty of time to think. Audra was unresponsive for over three hours.
"And if I said 'no'?" she said without preamble.
He was half dozing. Her words woke him. Tiago stumbled to his feet.
"I would tear it all down."
"Leave it. You have my permission," Audra said.
"Excellent. We have work to do," he said.
"It can wait until you've slept. I can just sit here," Audra replied.
"Good night, Audra. And thank you."
She watched his body language when he responded. He would have torn it down. At least, she amended, he believed he would. That was enough for her. It was more than she had hoped for, much more.
Chapter Eight: Destination Moon
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 619.
I have to re-evaluate everything I've thought about Audra. Even if I had been right about everything, and I wasn't, it would all be moot. She's changed. The sum of the parts is much more than I can account for. Granted, I haven't read all of her code. Worse, I can't keep all of it in my head.
Tiago woke from an uneven sleep. In his dream, Audra was being attacked by missiles from both moons. She stuck out her tongue and the repair shuttle flew out of her mouth. He wasn't in the shuttle, he was hanging on the outside, half wearing his vacuum suit and slowly suffocating. Just as Audra was about to reach out with her gigantic hand and save him, she was disassembled.
The sweat ran freely from his brow as he sat up in bed. His sleep clothes and his bedding were soaked. Tiago knew that the ship's environmental controls were working. He had no excuse, other than fear, for the state he was in now. His fingers trembled as he pulled back the covers. Slowly, Tiago stepped out of bed and headed for the bathroom. An hour later, he came out, feeling better. His head was freshly shaved, his body was clean, and his hands were steady. It was time to get back to work.
He walked into the 'Audra room' and saw her, limp and unmoving, in the corner. He tapped her shoulder and she reanimated. They walked to the lift together. Tiago was torn. Discipline required him to head for the gym. He'd been neglecting his new regime these last few days. He didn't want the gym. He wanted to sit on the bridge with Audra and figure things out. They went to the bridge.
"What do you want to work on first?" Audra asked it as she took her accustomed seat at the communications station.
"Okay. We have the brainless maker installed. The remote connection to the original maker won't work."
"Where are the… is it safe for me to look at the plans? Was that what caused my episode last time?" she asked.
"Yes and yes. I changed the plans to excise the offending bits," Tiago said.
"I wish you'd tell me what bits those were," she said.
"If I told you, it would happen to kill you. You can't handle the truth," Tiago said.
"I know. How could I not be curious, though. Imagine if something existed that could ruin your mind just by knowing it. How can you protect yourself when you don't know the nature of the danger? It's like Slowdigger's Cat." she said.
Slowdigger. Another glitch. Multiple. It was the wrong analogy. Did he have the right to fix them anymore? Was he really fixing things? Real people make errors when they talk. Not necessarily the kind she makes, but it might simply be part of the human aspect he was trying to nurture in her code. Programming didn't used to be such a deeply ethical process, he thought. Of course, if he really believed that ethics and coding were clearly separate before this, he would never have stolen the ship. That was a path to take another day, at a time when there wasn't an alien population so close at hand.
"Audra, please have a look at the remote link software. I'm going to work on another phase of the project."
"Are you sending me down there?" Audra asked calmly.
"I was out of line."
"Actually, it makes sense. You can manage the shuttle remotely if I get into trouble. I couldn't do that for you because of several sim-related protocols," she pointed out.
"Are you volunteering?"
"No. Just stating facts. I still think this is a bad idea. I have a feeling about it," she said.
How does a sim get a bad feeling, or even a good one?, Tiago wondered. Was that just an affectation of speech, or was she experiencing intuition?
"I'll think about it, Audra."
The idea of making a second Audra had sent her into an endless glitch. Since he promised not to disassemble this Audra, he needed to use a different sim for scouting the planet. Tiago wondered which personality was most open to having its propaganda erased. As he scanned the catalog of choices, his thoughts drifted. Mostly, he thought about Audra, the real Audra. Eventually his thoughts turned toward those last few days before launch. Which sims had he glanced at while thinking, he had no idea. Looking at his workspace, he saw that he'd stopped on a tall, skinny sim.
"Now, this one looks like someone who could be turned away from the government propaganda," he said to himself.
"Did you say something?" Audra looked over at him.
"I think I've picked the sim we'll instantiate on the moon. How do you feel about Three-four-seven?"
"They're all too party-line for me now that you've made your changes. Do you want to filter him?" Audra asked.
"Run his personality through my diffs," she said.
"You made specific changes to me. His code and mine should have significant overlaps; common bits. If you tell the filter to change each part of him the same way you changed it on me… It won't do everything, and some things might be wildly off, but it would save a lot of time," she said.
Tiago had never used his modifications to one program as an automatic patch for another program. The idea rocked him. Code re-use? That he did routinely, but this was more like concept re-use. It was meta-programming. And a sim thought of it. A sim who suffered from limited creativity just a few days ago.
"I'm up for a new experience. Let's run Three-four-seven through your diff filter."
Tiago called up Three-four-seven as a holo. He command the sim to silence so he could look him over. This one looked a lot like Quintrell. It would only take a few tweaks to complete the illusion. It was a silly thought. First, Quintrell was a painful memory – on multiple levels. Second, the priority was to create a scout, not to build another companion sim. Quintrell had been on Tiago's mind a lot lately. It wasn't healthy.
"Interrogative. I'm done with Three-four-seven."
Tiago sat down and started to look for a different sim. One-one-nine was a short female with gray hair and a tattoo of the Earth on her left shoulder. Much better. He started coding a process to apply the diff filter. It went quickly. It didn't have to be perfect, it just had to be good enough. If he were less eager for answers, this would have been a six month project. Instead, he pronounced it finished in under six hours.
He headed to his quarters as Audra slumped into her minimum activity posture. It had been a very productive day.
* * *
This dream was different. The others were more like memories. This time Quintrell was here, walking the floors of the Interrogative. That wasn't how things ended in real life. Audra was here, both Audras, and so was the sim he was working on… Nellie seemed to be her name in the dream. He didn't remember picking a name for her.
"Couldn't bear to face me," Quintrell said. "Had to change sims. I knew you were weak."
"Knew I was… You recruited me. You said I was a core player in the plan," Tiago yelled.
"Loses his temper," clucked Nellie.
"Losing his touch. Used to hide it better," Audra – one of the Audras – said.
"That's the trouble with con men," the other Audra said. "You never know what they are until they slip up."
"If I be was what he was," Nellie said, "I'd hide it, too."
"Be was? That's a glitch Nellie. Let me just get in and fix that," Tiago said as he ripped her head open.
Chapter Nine: Whoa, Nellie
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 620.
I had another bad dream. I don't want to talk about it. I'm going to make myself forget about it. There's work to be done.