28 Mar

Coma ship

Chief Engineer's log, 22:19, 16 March 2214
Location: Wide orbit near Earth Moonbase, Home System
Status: Stationary and powered down


I swear, if one more person comes down here asking how things are going with Starry, I’m going to fix them. With a wrench.

I’m going as fast as I can. Do they think I don’t want her online and chattering just as much as they do? Do they even understand how much I have to do to get her back? No, no, all I get is ‘Monaghan, are you done yet’ and ‘when is she going to be fixed’ and ‘can’t you work any faster’. I’ve only got one pair of hands here, y’know!

Okay, that’s not strictly true any more. I went around the ship and hard-rebooted the drones yesterday, and they’re working again. They had been caught up in Starry’s loop, but because she’s offline, they were fine after they’d been reset. Of course, they’re less use without her, because they use a lot of her system resources and subliminal processing. I have to tell them exactly what I need them to do, and they’re so stupid that it sometimes takes them a while to figure out how to do it. They usually get there in the end, though.

What’s weird is that they’re not acting like truly solo drones. Lacking a central intelligence, they should just stop and wait for directions whenever they complete an order. Instead, Starry’s drones come and find me.

Which, let me tell you, is creepy when you fall asleep and haven’t given them enough to do. I woke up a few hours ago surrounded by all six drones. Waldo was doing something with my blanket and Byte was on the pillow right next to my head holding a comb. Casper was almost hiding behind the two big fellas. Big Ass was opening and closing one of his hands; I’m not sure I want to know why. Bit was on the ceiling over the bed with his head swivelled around. And they were all staring at me. Waiting. I nearly shit myself.

It feels like the whole ship is waiting for me to do something. I’m doing everything I can, dammit! That was the first time I’d managed to get some sleep since it happened.

After Starry went down, the first thing I did was verify that the AI core is intact. Which it mostly is, but Starry has a habit of storing her files all over the place anyway – redundancy in case someone tries to box her again – so I’m sure she’s all right. Whole. I checked her central files and they’re fine; she shut herself down before they could be damaged. She’s just… offline right now. More like a coma than sleeping; she’s going to be tough to wake. I’m not looking forward to that step.

First, I have to fix all the broken hardware. I almost have all the parts I need. I’ve hardly had to use the extruder before, but the damn thing has been working non-stop over the past couple of days, building new parts to replace everything she lost. It’s too small to make the big stuff like engines or wings or hull plates; it’s built for constructing delicate internal components, like crystalline matrices, optical cabling, and microscopic connectors.

I managed to get a production line set up with the drones today: I programmed the extruder with the component I needed; Bit and Byte watched it run to make sure it didn’t glitch; Waldo and Casper stress-tested the part when it was complete; and Big Ass and Wide Load removed bulkheads so I could get to where it needed to go. The smaller fellas have been helping me to clear out the damaged parts as well. We’re making good progress, even if the drones are particularly stupid right now.

It’s hard to believe that the emergency systems are still running despite the extent of Starry’s injuries; that was one hell of a destructive loop she got herself into. I had to ask the captain what could have done this and he told me all about it. Fuck, what a mess. Starry didn’t stand a chance.

From what I can tell, Starry’s extrapolation protocols were wide open when she figured out the time-loop: the damage was worst in her contingency scenario centre – it was melted into slag – closely followed by her core processing. Rampant extrapolations would have amplified the issue by spinning it out even faster than usual. She was so busy trying to calculate the safest route for us that she was completely vulnerable when a scenario bigger than the universe hit her.

For it to be able to spill over into so many systems and run her hot enough to cause physical damage, she must have torn out all of her processing regulators. I knew she had removed some of the blockages, but not all of them. On top of that, I’m finding components in her core systems that were damaged months ago, too; this isn’t the first time she has strained her own hardware. This is just the worst.

I’ve almost finished rebuilding her systems – just a few more connectors to go, and then a shit-load of diagnostics – but I still have to figure out how to fix the original problem or she’ll just melt down again. And that… well, it’s been two days and I still don’t have a good solution for it.

I could wipe her memory – not all of it, just the offending data. But what good would that do except delay the inevitable from happening again? Starry’s smart: she’ll figure out the time-loop and we’ll be right back here again. Or she’ll ask. She’ll ask about the missing time, and why she was offline for so long, and I won’t know what to tell her. I’m not that good at lying.

And it doesn’t seem right, messing around with her memories. If she’s anything like a person, that’s like messing with who she is. And she is like a person. If we start, where the hell do we stop? Danika’s memories built a lot of the Starry we know, and the experiences she has recorded since then have affected her, too. Who the hell are we to cut out bits of her past? Lie to her about the truth?

Ah, what the fuck do I know about morality. I’ve never pretended to be the best person in the world. But I’m not opening that particular can of worms; I don’t care what the captain says.

Not that he’s asked me to do it yet. He hasn’t asked for that kind of detail on anything I’m doing right now; he doesn’t want to know. He just wants me to fix her.

He won’t say, but I think he’s as scared as the rest of us. Hell, even Rosie came down earlier to see how Starry was coming along (that’s how she put it: how Starry was coming along, not me, like she’s a patient in Med Bay).

No, fiddling with her memory is out. I ain’t going there. I have to bring her back the way she was. The way she is. Is, dammit.

That leaves finding some way to restrict her processing so she can’t get caught up in a loop again. Put back some of the things she tore out. But she did that so she could do what she needed to do. So she could think clearly. So she could be herself. And also, so she could protect herself from attack. How is undoing that any better than fiddling with her memory?

What the hell kind of choice is this? Change what she remembers or change the way she thinks? I don’t want to change who she is! Stupid fucking hardware.

Jeez, when did I become a brain surgeon? I didn’t become an engineer to make decisions like this.

There must be a better way around it. Starry was wide open because she was trying to protect us. It ain’t fair, dammit. There has to be a better way. A way to protect her without restraining her.

I could contact the Moonbase and ask for advice, but I know what they’d tell me: reinstate the processing restriction and protocols. They’re there for a reason. They’re safety measures to keep an AI running. Why the hell would we want otherwise? But we don’t have a regular AI and she needs to be able to think freely. She ripped out those leashes for a reason.

There has to be a better solution. Some method of setting up a safety net that doesn’t restrict what Starry does, but catches her if she falls.

Hmm, that actually gives me an idea. I can build something like that. A protocol that only comes into play if she gets in trouble. A way to catch runaway processing streams before they can damage her. If I restrict the chunking sizes and parallelisation….

Yeah, I think I can do something with that. But not from out here. And not until the hardware is complete again. Soon, though.

Dammit, Waldo has come over to stare at me again, with his head tilted like a sad dog. There’s nothing wrong with his neck struts – I checked – but he still has a tilt to his head. Even without Starry’s influence, the drones have their silly little personalities. As if being cute and personable is going to make a difference right now. Go extrude some more optical wire! Go on! Shoo!

Oh, don’t droop. Great, now I feel mean. My ship is brainless and the goddamn drones are making me feel like an ass. I didn’t do this to her! It’s not my fault! I couldn’t know this would happen!

I’m apologising to a drone. When did life get so weird?

Wait. Did I just tell Waldo to extrude ‘some’ wire? Oh, shit, I’d better go tell him how much I need in case he decides ‘some’ is enough to fill an entire cargo bay.

End log.

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9 Responses to “Coma ship”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow, nice one…

    I really liked how Elliot was waking up with all them bots around him 😀

    I hope Starry will be ok, and wakes up soon from her coma.

    Wow, that is a great analogy that Elliot makes thinking of the damage as wounds/injuries – which they actually are…

    Ah, having her extrapolations out and maxed explains why Starry could not stop it in time before the calculations doing damage to her…

    Oh, Elliot is thinking of Starry in the past – I hope that is no foreboding… *hugs Starry*

    Maybe he can put a safety guard into her like a one line code: if detect (endless) loop stop thinking about it (exit); endif;

    …oh, or he could restrict the amount of processing…

    Ah, well, and he better tell Waldo where to get that optical wires from, too – possibly not from places where they were already installed…


  2. targetdrone Says:

    i like elliot… 😉

    but i really hope he is able to help starry back, and soon… we are missing her ;(

  3. Blik Says:

    You did a good job capturing the hopelessness Elliot is feeling. Well done. Your writing is impeccably sound, as always.

  4. Belial666 Says:

    What I don’t understand is why Starry’s hardware would be vulnerable at all.

    When you build hardware why not build it to be physically unable to run software that can damage it instead of having that kind of locks be software-based?

  5. Medic Says:

    I like the idea of the safety net you came up with. Better then what I had in mind.

    I love the way you have Elliot in emotional turmoil.

    @mjkj Your right. Waldo would start pulling wires from the walls in his current condition (heck maybe even as a joke with Starry awake).
    I’d be laughing my buns off, unless I was the one who had to put it all back together (poor Elliot).

  6. mjkj Says:

    Indeed Medic, maybe Waldo will – after Starry is back online again – which is hopefully soon…


  7. Andrul Says:

    @Belial666: Because Murphy rules and makes sure we never forget it. I remember back in the mid 90’s a virus was released that would overclock the processor causing a meltdown. At first the only noticeable symptom was the computer seemed to be running better. There was also one that damaged hard drives by causing the read/write head to move past the designed limits. Later hardware included physical limiters to prevent this but it wasn’t thought of until it actually happened. Starry’s hardware is based on standard AI designs where the AI’s likely don’t have the intelligence, self-awareness, and initiative necessary to think up the paradox in the first place. It seems that Starry is to normal AI’s what today’s computer is to the first pocket calculators.

  8. daymon34 Says:

    Poor Elliot talk about a tough couple of days. And that would be shocking to wake up with all the drones hovering over your bed.

    At least the hardware will be fixed shortly, and maybe the idea to keep the burnout from happening again will help Starry. Still that loop is going to be a pain to work over.

  9. Melanie Says:

    Sorry for the delay in replying, everyone!

    mjkj – yup, that’s the kind of code that Elliott is thinking about. The comment about ‘chunking sizes and parallelisation’ is him starting to work towards a way to restrict the size of a single query and how many she can run at once, so that even if she spawns a million possibilities, she won’t get swamped by them. 😉

    Hee, Waldo. Stupid drones are the best.

    targetdrone – She’ll be back soon! Promise. Can’t have our loveable, huggable ship gone for too long. 😉

    Blik – thank you! You make me blush. 🙂

    Belial666 – you’re right! However, as Andrul said, hardware restrictions can be overcome by software manipulation. Starry went through a period of tearing out all kinds of locks and restrictions, and this is one of the protections that fell by the wayside. This is the problem when you have an AI who is inclined to dislike such restrictions, and is smart enough to get around them. 😉

    Medic & daymon34 – poor Elliott, I am so mean to him. 😀 The opportunity with the drones was just too good to miss, though.

    It’d be no fun if it was all easy! More coming soon!