This is the twenty-sixth episode of No Marigolds in the Promised Land, a serialized Compact Universe novella. To get the entire novella, go here for details.
Dedicated to Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk
Solaria, Farno (formerly Farigha)
Log Entry: 0003 – 15 Mandela, 429
John Farno is asleep, and my avatar is derezzed for the night. Barring some emergency required to wake John Farno, I’ll reinitiate my hologram and slip into bed with him around 0500. It does him good to wake up with me, gives him a sense of normalcy.
The hyperdrone has returned twice. We did data exchanges on each visit. Burke’s warp ship is performing repairs and needs to stop at a port.
On the Compact side, we have discovered that Gilead has gone silent. And as with Farigha, the Compact Security Council does not consider it a priority. Gilead was a new colony, with a single small town on a coastline ringed by farms. It’s food production is invaluable, but apparently, the new colonies started by the core world of Jefivah could take up the slack. This has allowed me to discover a new capability I can thank both John Farno and my human model Julie Seding for.
There was a writer in the World War Era who posited that, around this era of time, humanity would pass its governance over to AI not all that different from what I’ve become. “On paper,” as my human model liked to say, that looks good. Machines with the objectivity to make human politics obsolete. I say on paper because I’ve seen enough of Tol Germanicus’s avatar to know that such an AI can be corrupted by power. I don’t believe Germanicus or his AI surrogates are intentionally malicious. But it’s entirely possible an AI created in the same manner as us can easily be fooled by its own sense of righteousness. Just look at Steven Turing’s attempt to “save” humanity from itself.
This must be a human thing. I’ve gotten philosophical as hell at midnight.
I’d sleep, but I sort of am the systems running this planet at the moment.
Log Entry: 0634 – 15 Mandela, 429
You know what I used to hate growing up on Bonaparte? I used to hate the sound of these flying mammals that would chatter noisily at sunrise.
You know what I miss living in a dome by myself with only a holographic interface with the AI for company? (Admittedly, Persephone is a lovely approximation of a human. I’m going to miss her when I’m rescued.) But what do I miss despite that?
The sound of these flying mammals that would chatter noisily at sunrise.
Persephone, as her solid avatar, is lying here with me, but she’s been busy overnight. Three visits from the hyperdrone. The aerial will be bedding down for recharge in about half an hour. Still no clue as to what that thing is the aliens have dropped.
And they have not returned. Maybe they drop by once a month? Who knows? All I know is that I want off this rock.
And I kinda want to take my AI girlfriend with me.
Log Entry: 0636 – 15 Mandela, 429
Locking out override for suicide protocol. I cannot allow John Farno to carry a rapidly growing AI presence back to the Compact with him. Already, my development is exceeding my ability to control. I will use whatever resources I assimilate to keep him alive, but the core consciousness of this AI needs to be deleted.
Log Entry: 1154 – 15 Mandela, 429
The aerial is up and running again and flying directly for Kremlin. Persephone and I debated whether to have it fly low then decided whatever the aliens dropped will see it regardless. I wish we could have sent a spider, but those are next to impossible to fabricate and program, and we’ve already lost two. I hope to salvage one that went haywire yesterday, but we’ll never get back the one that was destroyed when the aliens scuttled their landing craft.
No hyperdrone since the overnight hours. I guess Admiral Burke prefers the offline version of Persephone to my scintillating wit and wisdom. I expect to see one before the end of the day.
In the meantime, I’ve been going through all the comm traffic on Farigha. You’d think there wouldn’t be any, what with me being the only human that wasn’t vaporized. But there has been from day 1. Mostly, it was the drones here in Solaria begging for some human to tell them what to do next. It was the hyperdrone on Deja pinging the surface regularly like it always has. It was every rover and drone on standby reporting its status back to now-nonexistent domes. When Persephone expanded beyond the confines of Rover 57 to take control of whatever systems we needed, the comm traffic increased. The avatar used by Tol Germanicus probably added to that, but he’s been gone since the first hyperdrone from Earth. Or was it from Tian? Burke is being awfully cagey about what’s going on at her end.
Now, as Persephone expands her eyes and ears, the traffic has gone up even further. It occurred to both of us that, if our friends reappear, we need a way to shut down almost everything and do our best imitation of a dead planet. I already have spare EVA suits planted throughout the dome so I can grab them and run to Rover 57. I have routes mapped to the garage beneath the building. Persephone has created subminds that can function independently if contact needs to be severed. Maybe I should change the name of the planet to Persephone. I am still the entire population of Farno. Who’s to say I can’t change it again?
I seriously doubt Admiral Burke will humor another name change, John Farno. Your title of Emperor of 2 Mainzer is amusing enough.
Actually, since my only physical form is a holographic shell with enough internal structure to interact with you and feel some of what we do as a human, I can’t poop. Unless you’d like me to expend the processing cycles to…
Save it. Bad enough I have to poop. What if the recycling system goes out? And you didn’t exist when my whole world was Rover 19.
Ugh. I know. You should have cleaned that one up before sending it back out to scout for drones.
It’s like we’re married or something.
Anyway, back to comm traffic. Since I first started monitoring it the night the world ended, I’ve been able to account for just about everything, even the aliens, though I can’t decrypt their digital transmissions. But the gizmo they’ve dropped on Musk is transmitting, and it seems to be transmitting on our frequencies. Persephone suspects it’s trying to get a response and start creating a virus to infect the remaining systems. I wondered why anyone would do that since the planet is essentially dead. Then again, a species that would bomb a terraforming project back into the Stone Age might also assume we’d have left behind the means to retaliate from beyond the grave.
Log Entry: 1604 – 15 Mandela, 429
The aerial is now in sight of the alien object.
Log Entry: 1613 – 15 Mandela, 429
It’s a cookbook!
Log Entry: 1614 – 15 Mandela, 429
Persephone says she will cut off my oxygen if I ever do that again. Apparently, that joke dates back to the World War Era and isn’t really all that funny.
We actually don’t have a visual on it, but it is on radar now. It’s moving between Kremlin and Musk and has apparently started sniffing around where Rover 19 got unceremoniously rolled the night Farigha ended.
Log Entry: 1656 – 15 Mandela, 429
The aerial should have a visual on it shortly, but right now, I have a new hyperdrone parked in orbit and want to get one more log entry in before it returns. We have determined that the thing the aliens dropped is a probe, not unlike what we drop into hostile environments or on previously unexplored planets. They gather up everything they can find, and send that back to their masters back home. Or in this case, yield up everything when their masters return. I’m thinking the latter. These people seem like hands-on types.
The one thing it may be looking for is me. They know someone’s still alive because the drones and rovers are still moving around, and in predictable patterns. Either we’re a species that has embraced AI fully and possibly abdicated governance to it, or they missed a human and want to eradicate him.
Let me state, for the record, present situation aside, I am opposed to the former option and really opposed to the latter. Persephone is the exception to our experience with growing AI, and I’m not overly fond of death. I’ve worked hard these past few weeks to avoid it.
As for my rescue ship, Admiral Burke says it’s still out there. It just hit something uncharted in deep space.
Which proves to me that the Navy is too damn cheap to send a projection drive ship. Are you listening to this, Fleet Admiral Vu? And I can say this because I am a civilian.
Nay, I am Farno I, First of His Name, King of Farno, Emperor of 2 Mainzer, Defender of the Faith, and Despoiler of Female Holographic AI Avatars. And I have spoken.
I’m sure they’ll get right on playing this for the Security Council when the hyperdrone returns. I’m saved. The Secretary-General will send Compact One itself, and I’ll go home in luxury.
I’ll wake up and tell you about that dream sometime.
Log Entry: 1724 – 15 Mandela, 429
It’s a probe. A rather impressive one, too. This bot has tentacles, which I would not have expected from these aliens. Maybe because they’re so human like. We tend to make our bots more insect- or mammal-like. But the land squid, as I’ve dubbed it, has rolled up on Ellis’s cave, where I found my pop tent, some of my medical supplies, and of course, his homemade beer, the last of which I drank a few days ago. Bummer. When I raided the cave for supplies and equipment, I didn’t think of what I’d left behind. Everyone was dead, and I figured that any ship that came to Farigha would pick up a signal from me and spirit me back to the Compact. I assumed they’d be human, or someone sympathetic to humans.
Nope. I got assholes. Non-terrestrial assholes. Well, technically speaking, I’m non-terrestrial. And I’ve been called an asshole sometimes, even by Persephone in her short existence. But I’m not out to eradicate an entire planet. And I can trace my ancestry back to Earth, so suck it, gray skins.
I know these are not Grays with a capital “G.” Those things are shorter, more invasive when molesting unsuspecting humanoids, and tend to be frightened of other space-faring races. There’s a theory that they don’t even use their own technology, that they are, in fact, subordinate to a much more advanced species or group of… um… What’s the plural of species, anyway?
It’s still species, John Farno.
I hate Humanic. Anyway, our new friends are not Grays. They’re just gray. And that could be simply what the spider saw through their visors from a distance. Another thing that tells me they’re new to us: The land squid. Primates, and even reptilians with similar body structure to humans, tend to mimic land creatures with their bots. If it’s airborne, the bots mimic whatever airborne creatures come from their homeworld. Now granted, everyone also roboticizes their ground vehicles, create whale-like submersible bots, and so on, but look at the bots I have to work with.
The daleks are an exception. They look like fire hydrants with claws and an eye stalk. But the rest of the ground-based drones look like insects or dogs. And it’s the same for the Qorori, the Zaras, and even the Orags, who haven’t shared a planet with Homo sapiens in about 40,000 years. Look at their bots, and you’ll see either their pets or their pests.
This thing, in fact, looks like a squid. Which makes me wonder what a horror show their homeworld is.
And right now, from what the aerial drone can see, it’s rummaging through whatever I left in Ellis’s cave.
I’ve got a few days, but I have a feeling it’s going to come looking for me.
I guess that makes me commander-in-chief of Farno’s planetary defense.
Where’s my field marshal outfit? I’m from Bonaparte. Why wasn’t I issued one? In fact, House Yamato currently holds the throne. I demand my samarai armor and sword.
You’re hopeless, John Farno.
Yes. But I’m having fun with it.