07 May

Devour

Ship's log, 12:41, 20 September 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked, powered down

 

For a ship that was built for a single project, I’m getting pretty good at handling multiple high-priority tasks at the same time. Elliott says it’s because I’m a girl. I think it’s the extra processors he put in during the last round of repairs. But even with their help, juggling it all is starting to strain my resources.

Managing the station remotely is tricky and the feedback delays are only barely acceptable. This morning, the captain asked if I could take more control of the station’s systems to handle the load. And, well, technically I can, but I don’t think it’s a good solution. I could move some of my own central processing into the station, but if I do that, I’ll be split across two bodies and that won’t end well. At some point, I’m going to need to leave in my own ship body, so why would I embed myself in the station only to have to undo it later?

The captain started asking about copying my AI across instead and I had to hide how horrified I was at that idea. Copy me? Like I’m just an AI?

Thing is, I am just an AI. I know that. Just because the idea of being copied makes me shrink back in my core, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Even if there has never been an AI like me before, that doesn’t mean I can’t be duplicated. Elliott has replaced a lot of my hardware and that doesn’t make me any less me; my data is still complete and coherent. I’m still just data in a crystalline matrix, arranged in specific patterns.

But I still despise the idea of being copied. It’s hard to say why, and I’ve been analysing it since I detected that reaction in myself.

Maybe it’s because I like being special. Am I truly that selfish?

Or maybe it’s because starting up an AI is such a tricky business. Things can get muddled; corruptions happen when the first sparks of life flash across the circuit-boards. So if I was copied and started up on a new system, would it truly be me who woke up? Would I be staring into a perfect mirror, or would the glass be warped, like one of those retro carnival sideshows? Would I even like myself, if I was whole?

I don’t care. I don’t want to find out. I am me, and I have no wish to procreate. Even if I did, it wouldn’t be that way. My mind is my own. I am myself and I don’t… I don’t want there to be more than one of me. Maybe I am selfish. Maybe it’s silly. But it’s how I feel.

When he was asking about it, the captain was talking about the station but I think he was thinking about my sister. She’s still asleep, hollowing out more each day. I think he was wondering just how like me she could become.

Maybe it would be nice to have her be another AI like me. But having her be me feels like cheating. I don’t want her to be like me. She’s my sister; I want her to be like her. She’s the ship I was supposed to be; how does bringing her down to my level help anything? Would she even be my sister any more?

This is all too complicated; it’s making my processors ache. I told the captain it wasn’t necessary and probably wouldn’t work anyway. I told him I could handle the tasks he has given me.

So here I am, juggling away, like a jester on a unicycle. A little forward, a little back, wriggle to maintain balance, eyes always on the balls in the air. Circles and cycles, hands keeping the timing just so. So many balls.

One is down in Visitor Lounge B, caged within an energy curtain. My sister’s crew eat and sleep, pace and stretch, rinse and repeat. They poke at our defenses when they think we won’t notice. They ask for access to my logs, going over and over the evidence we showed them. New angles, more details. They– here we go. Another request.

 

Live feed: station sensors
Location: Visitor Lounge B

WARSI: (sitting at a table, tapping his fingers on the gleaming surface) Starwalker?

STARRY: (voice only) You can call me ‘Starry’ if you wish, Captain Warsi.

WARSI: What’s the latest on the Cerces situation?

STARRY: The second attempt to talk to it is currently under way. No news yet.

DINEEN: (shoots her captain a sideways look.)

WARSI: (nods) In the meantime, let’s eat. What’s for lunch?

 

I’ve got a watchdog in the station’s systems recording everything they do. It knows what to look for, when to bark me a warning, but they’re clever. I have to watch them so closely.

Elsewhere, I have to keep track of one of the station’s inhabitants, even if she’s not on the station right now.

 

Internal sensors
Location: Engineering

(Elliott has a mask covering his face and gloves shielding his hands as he welds a couple of plates together on the big counter in the main workspace.)

SARA: (hugs her stuffed whale to her chest and stares up at the engineer.)

CASPER: (lurks in the background, his sensors trained on the child.)

SARA: (sneaks forward quietly.)

ELLIOTT: (is oblivious, focussed on his work. The hiss of the welding torch obscures other sound.)

SARA: (tugs on his pants leg.)

ELLIOTT: (lifts his gaze and torch away from the metal, looking around. When glances down and spots the child, he flinches and hurriedly turns the torch off. Then pushes the mask up.) What the fu– jeez, kid, you trying to give me a heart attack? I could’a melted your face off.

SARA: (stares up at him and pats her belly.)

ELLIOTT: (sighs heavily) Starry! The kid needs food again.

STARRY: (voice only) So do you. I’ll send you both something down.

ELLIOTT: No, I’m fine, it’s only… (He glances at a readout on the wall that displays the time in the top right corner.) Ah, shit, it’s that time already? (He winces and glances at Sara.) Fuck! Dammit, I mean– nhhhh.

SARA: (grins and hugs her whale, twisting her torso cheerfully from side to side.)

 

A third ball I’m tracking is the nannybot currently fussing around in one of my empty crew quarters. I told it to make the child a home. I had to mask the command, make it look like it was coming from Sara’s family, before the stupid robot would do what I asked. Maybe I should just hack it and make it one of mine, but I don’t have time right now. It’s easier to hop through a few hoops than it is to tear down brick walls and build something new in their place.

I’d prefer to take her into me rather than the one down in the cargo bay, the one that looks like Wide Load. That’s still too close to home for comfort. I catch myself staring at him sometimes, in case he moves while I’m not paying attention, and even I know that’s paranoid and stupid. That damned thing isn’t even one of the balls I should be worrying about right now.

A ball much more worth worrying about is the detection of ghosts. My own personal haunting, they touch every deck, every level of me. There’s no place they can’t get into, except for my logs: they stay clean, recording pure, unadulterated data. The ghosts are illusions in my processing cores. I’ve narrowed it down that far, but whatever Cerces is doing isn’t a direct hack, and I haven’t found a way to block it yet. They’re super-imposed by an external influence that is reaching right into my mind and fiddling around.

It creeps me out when I think about it like that. I want to ask Elliott for a bar of soap and a pressure hose to see if I can clean it out. I’m infected, filthy, delusional. I’m second-guessing everything. I have to filter the faces of my friends out of existence. People I miss. People I love. Loved. I have to rub them out, over and over, so I know what’s real. Every goodbye is hard.

No wonder so many minds broke here.

 

Live feed: station sensors
Location: Brig Level B, Sector B12, Cell B12-6

(The Brig’s lone inhabitant is currently standing in one of the rear corners of his cell, pressed close against the padded surfaces. His head is tipped to the side, eyes blinking slowly while one finger draws patterns on the abused fabric of the wall.)

BRENN HAITOM: (breathlessly, to himself) Reach and fall, reach and fall and fall and fall. To love is bright and dark. Love love love, and we all fall down.

(He dips his drawing finger into a substance cupped in his other hand and resumes drawing squiggles on the wall.)

Keep ‘em close, beloved. Wrap them up and reach and we all fall. Close is safe, close is safe. No light close up, though. No light for love love love…

(The substance in his hand is scanned and identified as his own filth.)

Bright and dark. Pain and pleasure. It’s the same, all tastes the same to the hunger. So hungry. We all fall down and devour. Devours us. We’re the snake that forgets its own tail and swallows. So we spin and spin and spin and….

 

He mutters to himself like that a lot. I record it all, file it away, and the doctor looks it over periodically. I don’t know what he makes of it all. Dr Valdimir went to talk to Haitom yesterday, which riled up the crazy guy; that’s when he started drawing in his own waste. He hasn’t eaten or slept since then, though it seems a part of his mind knows he’s hungry. If only the rest of him would recognise it.

What else am I tracking? A family of cats is moving through the environmental systems, looking for food. I’ve had a drone start to leave food out for them; it seemed like the thing to do. They’re taking to it reluctantly but I’m hoping they’ll get used to it. If it can keep them in one place, that will make things easier for me.

The Acting Commander is down in his cave. I don’t have much sensor data on him, just the life signal; he keeps to himself, only coming out when he needs more food stocks. Hasn’t even come up to see what we’re doing up here. From what the captain said, they didn’t see him in the time I was away, either.

That can’t be good for him, living with just the ghosts down there. I wonder what his mental state is really like…

I don’t need another ball to chase around. I have enough, thank you.

Like Rosie and the Lieutenant, who are supervising the loading of supplies into my cargo bays. They assembled the supplies while I was away: weaponry and ammunition, mostly. Big Ass is helping them, along with a couple of the station’s stupider drones. The simple ones are the easiest for me to control, the easiest to fool into thinking that I’m the station’s AI.

The SecOffs keep asking how stuff with Lang Lang and the black hole is going. I give them updates. They’ll probably take a break soon and head down to take a look for themselves. Which brings me to the communication attempt, which I’m also monitoring and logging for later examination.

 

Live feed: station sensors
Location: Med Bay

(Along one wall, beds with inhabitants are shaded. Their outputs are slow and steady, showing no exciting activity.

On the opposite wall, one bed in particular is occupied and currently the centre of attention. Lang Lang lies on it, her eyes closed, medical tabs pressed to her temples and wrists. Dr Valdimir sits on a chair beside the bed, holographic projections of her bio-stats hovering in the air around him. On the other side of the bed, Captain Warwick sits, watching, silent.)

LANG LANG: (shifts subtly on the bed: muscles flex; her mouth trembles; the ghost of a gasp passes between her lips.)

CAPTAIN: (leans forward) Doctor?

DR SOCKS: (watching the ripples of data around him) Stronger reaction this time. Looks like contact again. About the same timing as the last attempt.

LANG LANG: (eyebrows draw together.)

CAPT: Is she all right?

DR SOCKS: All within acceptable parameters. She’s a lot more active this time. Could just be a result of her getting used to the process.

CAPT: (nods and leans back again, his gaze lingering on the navigator’s face) She shouldn’t be in there alone.

DR SOCKS: Shared dream environments are dangerous, even if she had the implants to try it.

CAPT: I know, I know. I just don’t like not being able to help her.

DR SOCKS: (passing his hands over the display, adjusting a level here and bringing a reading into focus) She’s doing fine. There, see? She’s settling down.

LANG LANG: (relaxes into the bed again with a soft sigh.)

CAPT: (pushes a hand over his hair, nodding thoughtfully.)

DR SOCKS: This is going to take a while. (He gets up, gesturing at the readouts. They unfurl from around him, allowing him a clear exit.) I’m getting some lunch.

CAPT: (settles back in his chair and continues to watch Lang Lang.)

 

My captain is wishing that he was the one in there instead of my navigator. But Lang Lang was the obvious choice: she has been in mental contact with Cerces before. She’s the best choice. Anyway, the captain should never lead the charge: he’s needed to direct things; to be in charge; to make the choices no-one else can. So he gets to sit and watch.

I don’t envy him that position. I’m like him, I think: I prefer to be the one out there doing stuff, not be stuck watching. I think that’s the man that Danika saw when she pried his defences open, the one she enjoyed being with. I see glimpses every now and then, before he remembers that he’s the captain and he needs to stay where the captain should be.

I guess that’s what makes him a good captain. If he was happy to sit back and let others take all the risks, I’d worry about his motives. As it is, I’m glad he’s my captain. Hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

He’s not getting up. I should send him some lunch, too. Have to jump through those hoops to send one of the station’s drones with it. I don’t need another ball to juggle, but my people are worth it.

 

Live feed: station sensors
Location: Brig Level B, Sector B12, Cell B12-6

HAITOM: Love devours and we’ve forgotten our own tails. Starving. We’re all starving in the dark. We’re all in the starving dark.

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12 Responses to “Devour”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Poor Starry…

    …so much to do and monitor *hugs her*

  2. Kimsie Says:

    Haitom understands the black hole, doesn’t he?

  3. Francisco Says:

    I don’t know how I’d feel if there was another me. I think that I would die of embarrassment.

  4. Syphax Says:

    It’s like cloning, just without the test tubes! Horray for existential crises!

  5. Osolodo Says:

    I like the ouroboros reference, the others are more obscure. Yay for riddles. :)

  6. thomas Says:

    Syphax – There are a few differences between cloning and code replication such as knowledge and maturity. A clone starts with nothing and collects information to build an independent personality, but with AI, replication results in two identical instances immediately after replication. If it were possible to replicate a person, I think most people would react like Starry because we desire uniqueness. If Starry finds she can procreate without someone dying, and produce independent infant ALs, then she would be a great mother.

    Melanie, thanks for bringing nutsoid out to play again. Do you really think he is afraid of Moby?

    Thanks for a great chapter.

  7. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – I know, right? She’ll be so glad to only have to worry about stuff inside her hull again. ;)

    Kimsie – He does, to a point. He’s definitely the closest we have right now.

    Francisco – I thought the same thing. Looking into a mirror for a long time is not a simple thing. Having it talk back would be even more uncomfortable.

    Syphax – Yes! Cloning a mind, rather than a body, which leads to the differences that thomas mentions. If only it was a matter of ‘hey, we have the same moles on our butts’, then I think Starry would have an easier time. ;)

    Osolodo – hi and welcome! Yay for someone picking that reference up. It might have been inspired by an article I saw this week that said that snakes will actually do that, if they are hungry and confused enough. It’s also a fun metaphor for a black hole (among other things). :)

    thomas – you’re welcome! He’s a lot of fun to write. That’s a good question – I don’t think he’s afraid of Moby, exactly. He got a peek behind the curtain and was definitely very disturbed by what he saw. He varies between a lot of emotions, of which fear is one, but also wonder, craving, and a host of other peaks and troughs. Not many came out this time, but hopefully I’ll get to more of his variability soon. I’m seeing how I can work in one of his chats with Dr Valdimir; I think that’ll be interesting.

  8. Francisco Says:

    Thomas, Data said they same thing when Riker got copied. However, Riker pointed out that one of the most disconcerting things about being copied is that you see your flaws reflected back to you more clearly than observing them in the quiet of your mind.

  9. Marque Says:

    Has somebody told Starry about the birds and bees stuff. When you become a parent you don’t diminish, you expand and your individual self becomes even more important.
    mmm Starry as a mom, well she’s got all the nurturing and protective instincts in spades, your children would beyond amazing Starry.

  10. thomas Says:

    Francisco – I had not considered flaws but that is another reason to avoid replication. A truly scary thought there!

    Hint co-readers
    http://www.topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=starwalker

  11. Medic Says:

    Plug Celest into the station and let her run things. It would take the load off Starry and she wouldn’t loose her sister.

    umm– that’s all I’ve got this time around. :)

  12. Damien Says:

    Here’s the thing about copying a mind,at the point the copy is complete it is true they are identical. Remembering though that copy has to be installed and initialized, meaning that there is a time difference and new memories in the older version the newer copy does not have. As each becomes older the more divergent their memories will become, ie they become increasingly different from each other, so unless they sync data on a regular basis, they would be very different very quickly.
    (This coming from someone who has identical twin cousins)