Authors: Charles Barouch
Tags: #Science Fiction Adventure
"Long story. It'll be in the left sleeve," Tiago said as he grabbed the the shirt and pulled the slim sliver device out. "Let's go."
"Local. Open the door. Audra, come on."
They headed toward the lift. The local opened the door just as the lights went out. Tiago had a moment of panic as the doors closed, but the lift was still working. When it opened on the bridge, they stepped out cautiously.
"Local. Lights," Tiago said.
"No one here," Audra said.
"Let's see if we can restore control. Local. Turn on the captain's station."
Nothing. He hadn't expected it to work. Tiago crouched down and popped the panel off the base of the captain's chair. He pulled three circuit boards after noting their order. He got up and popped a plate on the left side of the science station. He plugged the boards in, one at a time.
"The board tester is working for basic POST diagnostics. These are working. The captain's chair should be working. The problem is with the ship's computer."
He put everything back where it belonged. To fix this, he'd have to find the saboteurs. He thought about the size of that task. The
was essentially a sphere, three miles in diameter. That made the command floor about seven square miles. Most of that was equipment and impact buffers, but that still left over a square mile of open space. The floor contained the bridge, engineering, and the primary supply storage for the maker unit. The command floor was in the middle of the sphere, so all the other floors were smaller. Still, he'd have two hundred floors to check, without any computer assistance. If he and Audra split up – not his first choice – it would still take far, far, too long. In his nearly two years aboard, he'd barely seen any of it. Besides, they couldn't split up. She couldn't operate the lift.
"How do we find them without the computer?" Tiago said.
"We use the computer," Audra said. "Come on."
Tiago didn't question her. He was happy to not have to lead. What ever idea she had, it was one more than he had.
"Local. Open the lift door."
"We need to go to life support," Audra said.
"Local. Lift to life support."
When the lift stopped, the doors opened into darkness. Audra nudged Tiago and he remembered that he had to ask for the lights. After all this time on the ship, he treated many things as passive, because the ship did it all.
"Local. Lights. Audra, what's the plan?"
"I thought you would have figured it out. Life support is working. That isn't a simple process of pushing air through vents. Life support has to know how much to push and where to push. Someone shut most of it down," Audra said.
"Yeah, I did. I see. If there's no air, they can't be there. We can just choke them out. We just shut all of it down except for the hydroponics and this room," Tiago said.
"No," Audra said. "If that fails, we've given them the idea to do it to us. We use this place passively. Where they are, the air will be cycling more."
Tiago liked his plan better, but he accepted her wisdom. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. He was letting a sim do the parts which required imagination and assessing how others might act.
"Local. Turn on main console. Local. Display current air cycle, peak usage only."
Three areas were displayed. On level ninety-nine, there was a small increase, which showed the two of them, in the hydroponics section. On level one hundred, the command level, there were two adjacent areas. Both were just outside the maker unit bay. Since he knew there were fifteen sims, not counting Audra, he could estimate the distribution. It looked like one in the left-hand area and all the others to the right.
"One of them is scouting ahead," Tiago said.
"No. Look, the positions aren't changing. That's a fight. The Masterless are fighting with each other," Audra said. "That can only help us."
"If they are fighting and they aren't next to each other, they are using distance weapons. They're shooting up the ship."
"Even if those are projectile, they are only near interior walls. Besides, that's command deck. It has over a mile of buffering between the outer walls and the hull," Audra pointed out.
"Still don't want them shooting up the ship. Also, I don't want the winner shooting us. With fourteen to one odds, this won't last long."
"Fourteen to one… The Masterless aren't fighting each other. The Masterless are fighting Government sims," Audra exclaimed.
"That's how Nellie created them so quickly. She built them as-is. What she got was something the Masterless couldn't control. She built her own enemies."
"Unmodified means they have whatever default weapons that sim was assigned," Audra said.
"Weapons that were just for show when they were holos or screenies, but the maker knows which weapon they were assigned and the maker would have accessed the weapon plans the same way the maker accessed the clothing plans to create them fully dressed. So, weapons and locals, because a local is part of the standard uniform definition. Good thing they don't know about the locals. Wait. Why
nine hells would the maker have access to the weapon plans? I need to review that code."
"Unless one of the sims was designed to teach safety," Audra said, quietly. "Several of us were designed as teachers for various subjects."
"So, if there were say, two safety teachers, just to guess a number, we have a one in one hundred and eight chance they know about locals," Tiago said.
"If she only made one model. If all fourteen are different, the odds slide down to a little worse than one in eight," Audra concluded. "We have to assume that they – the government sims – can use the maker if they can get there. They can make an army."
"The government sims are not likely to be fond of either of us. You're an extreme mod and I stole this ship."
"Are we rooting for the Masterless? Is that what we're left with?" Audra asked.
"We can stop them all, from here. Don't give me that look. I won't kill them. We have options," Tiago said. "Local. Access directive sixteen sixty-one. They need a nap."
"Directive sixteen sixty-one is a medical judgment. These crewmen are healthy," the local chirped.
"Nothing is ever easy on this ship."
"Can we access the maker from here?" Audra asked.
"No, locals are… well… local."
"If you could have gotten that directive working, where would the gas come from?" Audra asked.
"I doubt it is kept on board, that would risk it leaking out. I assume it's…. You are brilliant. Simply brilliant."
"The life support can access the maker unit. We are local to life support. Ergo, we already have control of the room they are fighting over," Audra said.
"Local. Please access the maker unit via life support. Local. I need specs on sims Three-one-one through Three-seven-seven. We are building an army."
"No. Bad idea," Audra said. "If the Masterless are fighting the government, then this is all your fault."
"My fault? I'm not the one invading my ship!"
"Our ship. Look at the facts. If the Masterless were able to control Nellie and me…" Audra began.
"Nellie and I. That's a glitch."
"No it isn't and stop interrupting. If the Masterless can't control the generic sims but they could control both of the modified sims, it means that something in your mods makes us vulnerable. If you make more sims using your technique, you are just adding to the Masterless' army."
"I know that."
"What? They why do it? I don't understand you," Audra said.
"Watch and learn. Local. I need specs on sim Three-one-one. Local. Run him through the diff of Nellie's changes. Local. Instantiate Three-one-one in the maker unit bay."
"Name for this instance?" chirped the local.
"Neville. Local. Instantiate a biostasis gun in the maker unit bay."
"So now it's two versus fourteen. What have you accomplished?" Audra asked.
"Just watch," Tiago said.
What they were watching wasn't 3D. It wasn't even pictures. For Tiago and Audra, all they could see was the effect on the atmospherics. In the hallway, the scene was much more visceral. And what they saw, other than Three-one-one consuming oxygen in the maker unit bay, was nothing. No change.
"Local. Open the door for him."
"Not connected to the door. Need to be proximate," Local chirped.
"Can we communicate with him? Local. Open communications to the maker unit bay. Neville, use the local which is sewn into your left sleeve. It can open the door."
"This is an official channel," Three-one-one said.
"I am Captain Salazar of the
, Corporal Neville."
"Neville is my first name. And I'm a Lieutenant. Dead giveaway, not addressing an officer properly. Stay where you are and I will come and arrest you. If you are innocent, you have nothing to fear," Three-one-one said.
"Local. Communications off. That went well. How does he have a last name? I didn't give him one."
"His last name is Used," Audra said. "Same as Nellie."
"How do you know that? How did Nellie and Neville get last names?"
"My error," Audra said, unhappily. "I created a glitch with my code. Well, not actually with my code, but that can wait. Ask the local for Nellie's full name. You'll understand."
"Local. What is Nellie's full name?"
"Nellie Variable Not Assigned A Value, Of Zero Was Used," chirped the local.
Tiago laughed until he gasped for breath. It was inappropriate. Their lives were in danger. It would hurt Audra's feelings. Still, he laughed. When he finally regained some control of himself, he took steps to protect them.
"Look. Neville is in the hallway. He used his local. Now we need to keep him there. Local. Scan Neville Used. He is an impostor."
"Cannot compare. No access to those areas of the ship's computer," chirped the local.
"We need a better way to keep track of them. See if life support can tag the individuals."
"Local. Can we tag the individual sims in the hallway?"
The display changed. The sim now had their numbers, in glowing green, marking their location.
"Glad I only added one for now," Tiago said. "Once the Masterless notice him, they'll take him over. He'll be standing with the other team at that point if we have any luck. And we are due some luck. Best outcome, the biostasis gun hits enough of them to re-balance the sides. Worst outcome, one side or the other wins. We can prevent that by adding modified and unmodified sims as needed."
"A balance of power," Audra said. "What a horrible definition of balance. Look, he's attacking the government sims."
"Local. Instantiate Three-four-seven, unmodified, in the maker unit bay."
"Name for this instance?" chirped the local.
"Quintrell… Used. Local. Instantiate a biostasis gun in the maker unit bay."
"Local. Open communications to the maker unit bay. Lieutenant Used, this is the Captain. Use the local which is sewn into your left sleeve. It can open the door. You need to guard the maker bay from the intruders."
"Understood, Captain," Three-four-seven said.
Tiago watched as Three-four-seven's number moved out of the room.
"Local. Lock all maker bay functions to my voice only."
"Done," chirped the local
"Now we have a little time. Audra, why not kill them? It's only their bodies. They would still be in the computer," Tiago said.
"Nellie passes for human according to the ship's computer. So do I. So does Neville. If you killed – disassembled – the others, the government sims, that would be fine," Audra said. "You know, as I'm saying it, I can hear how crazy it sounds. Despite that, I feel this way."
"That little speech, more than the changes to skin and eyes, that's what makes you human. You are irrational and emotional. If we survive this, we should celebrate. Today, Audra Manuel, is your birthday."
"So, you won't kill them?" Audra persisted.
"No, you and Nellie and Neville are safe. Safe from me, at least. If I can change topics: We still have very little access to the ship's computer, we might get killed by either of the two feuding sides at any time, and there's still the matter of the dome on the moon."
"I don't think they killed the voice interface. I think they are draining power and non-essential systems are shutting down," Audra said.
"How is voice command non-essential?"
"Between locals and sims, most of the functions are still available. If the other 'missing' functions are all ones that the ship is shutting down for power conservation… maybe, for what's left, voice is redundant," Audra said.
is powered by a hydrogen engine. Unless they put a hole in the tanks – an insanely large hole – we have enough fuel to power everything for months. I don't like this theory."
"The ship has all that power, but the computer isn't the ship. Don't conflate them in your mind," Audra said.