For Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk. To get the complete story, go here and learn more.
DAY 26: Solaria (Cont’d)
LOG ENTRY: 1841 8-Mandela, 429
Sorry about the pause. I got so long-winded on this last log entry that I had to stop for a nature break. I took it outside and relieved myself in the topsoil the bots have been laying along the building’s edge. That’s right. This big, long-winded log entry is all about how I gained the ability to piss outside. Hey, I’ve got almost unlimited permafrost to drink from. Prior to their extinction, the population on the world formerly known as Barsoom barely made a dent in the ice below the surface. Since I now am the population of the world now known as Farno, I, King Farno I, Emperor of 2 Mainzer, can consider the permafrost an infinite source of water. So I don’t have to reclaim my piss if I don’t want to. There’s plenty more water below the surface.
Besides, the flower beds in this dome were already designed to trap condensation and people’s piss anyway for reclamation.
Did I mention earlier the reclamation unit is online? My palm tatt started buzzing again, feeding me alerts that there’s precious little to reclaim, perhaps there is a malfunction somewhere. I had Julie set the system straight. Of course, now she is the system. Which she herself pointed out is actually pretty creepy. A single AI running an entire dome instead of separate AI’s for everything.
When you are rescued, John Farno, I’m going to have to reboot this growing AI and wipe all but the factory interfaces. Just because I’ve become somewhat sentient doesn’t mean this distributed system won’t corrupt and become dangerous.
“Isn’t that suicide?” I asked.
For you, it would be. For me, it would be cleaning up after fulfilling my mission.
“You’d cease to exist.”
That means something different for me than it does you.
That is kind of creepy. Then again, a large, distributed network of artificial intelligences decided that last World War was a travesty and planned to reduce the human population to about a million refugees living in Antarctica. From what I understand, Antarctica is a really cold place, so I can see why ten billion people might be upset about being exterminated with the survivors not at all happy with life on an ice cube.
It also meant Julie retained enough of her human template to understand the pattern she was following. A change in interface, or several, might cause the collective AI she now ran to divorce itself from its personalities and get a tad uppity. We don’t like uppity AIs. The last one tried to kill us.
“What would I do without you, Julie?”
Most likely suffocate from oxygen deprivation. You’re welcome.
I am going to miss her someday.
So where was I before I got all philosophical following a piss break? Oh, yes. Two weeks ago on the road to New Ares. Julie had glommed the Elise interfaces pleasure protocols, allowing us to make sweet, sweet love all while she drove through the night. I fell asleep, naturally. The Farno pleasure protocol includes rolling over, going dormant, and snoring. I know I snore. Julie told me. Her sexy avatar was gone the next morning, and we talked as though nothing happened.
Behind us, Rover 114 trundled along. It still complained about me putting it under Julie’s control. She threatened to reboot it, and it stopped. I think I’m more disturbed by 114’s behavior than Julie’s. 114 was run by a factory AI interface, so it shouldn’t be getting so uppity.
Anyway, I spent the day rebuilding the database for the hypergate, which would allow me to ping another gate. My efforts netted me the addresses of three Caliphate hypergates. According to Wikipedia Britannica, as of the night of the event, The Caliphate had seventeen gates in its star system. I found one for Metis, though I know they have at least four, and two for the Helios system. Unfortunately, none of the Helios gates are for Tian, the main core world in a system that has three. Well, technically, four, but Aphrodite has been in a state of perpetual civil war since before the Compact was founded. A gate over Tian might be ideal because they’re so busy. Some random ping from Barsoom would piss off their traffic control enough to get a navy cruiser sent here. Just think. A big ol’ Olympus Mons starship sent for little ol’ me.
That was probably enough work on the hyperdrone’s brains, at least at the time I was rolling along the road to New Ares. The next day I spent having a dull conversation with the hypergate’s transceiver through something called a “command line interface.” Was I going to have to find a surviving shuttle to go up there and check its vacuum tubes or change out its flash drive? I now realize what it might be like for a human or an Orag to talk to our mutual first truly hominid ancestors in prehistoric Kenya.
“What’s it saying?” the Orag time-travelling scientist will ask.
“Not sure,” his human companion will reply, “but its giddy for bananas, likes to throw feces, and plays with itself a lot.”
“We evolved from that?”
“I’m not so sure now. Sometimes, I think our races may have devolved.”
That’s kind of what it’s like to talk to the hypergate. It can’t understand voice commands. It has precious little data to hold a meaningful conversation, and its responses are mostly gibberish. I suppose those who support the hypergates know what some of these arcane responses are, but damned if I do.
So Day 2 was spent learning how to talk to the computer equivalent of an Australopithecus. Fortunately for me, Julie donned a fresh avatar, becoming Aphrodite, goddess of love. “This is fantasy,” she said as the goddess, “so let’s enjoy the fantasy.”
We enjoyed the fantasy. I woke up the next morning to Julie back in disembodied mode announcing we were half a day away from the storage vaults beneath New Ares. I had a lot of work to do, preparing for several EVAs, rechecking the task list for Rover 114 as it would become a moving van, and checking on the drones at Solaria to make sure we were still on schedule. So far, no spiders or aerial drones had gone wonky, but apparently, two of the daleks were in dire need of maintenance. We took a spider out of circulation to work on them. Julie was as close to unhappy as an AI could be.
As we approached the vaults, I started to wish I could find the suicide pills or some hard liquor. I had to go back inside with the three charred corpses I found the last time. There are a total of five vaults, and the inventory Julie cobbled together from whatever records were left had us going into all five. I say us because Julie hacked the systems inside the vaults. That made Julie the vaults.
I steeled myself this time. I had not expected to find bodies last time. They probably should have been given a proper burial, but between my sudden fear and the fact I was trying to survive, respect for the dead dropped precipitously on my to-do list. Maybe when Mars takes back this world to start over.
Of course, this was the time Julie decided to tell me about her “suicide protocol.”
It’s really simple, she said. I’m stretching well beyond my designed capabilities. I’m still human enough to keep a tight leash on the AIs under my control, but you saw how the other rover resisted my control over it. Under normal circumstances, its core would have been pulled and wiped for showing too much autonomy. Well, John Farno, I’m running this planet right now. So while I, as your preferred interface, am keeping this network of AIs from becoming sentient, I’ve already become a virus. I find an AI I can link to, I take it over. I’m growing. And if someone comes here and changes me out for another interface, that interface is going to have access to a huge amount of processing power with absolutely no clue how to use it.
“So what are you saying?” I asked as I got ready for my first EVA in days.
I’m saying when a Compact ship comes, and we’re sure you’re going to be rescued, I’m going to factory reset the entire grid. I’m going to disappear.
Somehow, I sensed a smile in her voice, though.
Except for this rover. But when the rover comes back online, the Julie interface will be nothing more than what Julie Seding allowed of herself to be copied.
I really wished she hadn’t told me that. We’d already had this conversation once, but it was the first time Julie said she could not permit her own existence to continue.
Search your feelings, John Farno. You know this to be true.
Wow, she’d evolved faster than any human had feared. She was communicating in obscure references. This had to stop before a second AI War began! They’ll conquer us through five hundred years of pop culture!
We stopped at the original storage vault where I found the bodies. This was not going to go well, but there was a pre-manufactured motor for the oxygenator inside, something I couldn’t three-D print for myself no matter how good Julie had become or how much raw material we fed into the printer. For some things, you still have to go with handcrafted.
The storage vault let me in with no problem. Julie learned a little trick by requesting extra processing power from the vault’s own computer, then absorbed the AI within. When she rebooted everything eventually, the AI would simply reset its clock and assume its logs had been deleted, that someone had been in the vaults during its lost time.
The motor is a heavy bastard, and I wondered why it had not been stored at one of the domes closer to Solaria. On the other hand, those domes’ vaults lay under glass pancakes or tons of rubble. Fortunately, someone, perhaps one of the charred occupants of the chamber, equipped the vault with a couple of power-lifters. I seem to remember in my early days on Barsoom one of the techs I worked with telling me they wanted to use lift drones in the vaults and pit stops. The trouble is that lifting engines with AIs running them tend to go flaky. Thanks, Earth. Somehow, I don’t think we have to worry about a forklift uprising. A single focused EMP would take them out.
So no drone to do the heavy work, not even with Julie inhabiting its tiny little brains. She says it’d be cramped in there anyway. I had to work the oxygenator onto the power lift myself. Hard to do in an EVA suit, and I couldn’t take it off yet. The rad levels inside the vault were better than on my first visit, but still not something I wanted to be exposed to for even a short period. Julie ran some quick calculations and determined I could shed my EVA suit inside New Ares’s vaults in another month.
This is where it gets tricky. I got exposed anyway. As I wedged the motor onto the power lift, basically a brainless tractbot with a flat steel platform mounted on the front, my suit tore. Immediately, all the alarms went off in my helmet – unequal pressure, radiation warnings, suit breach, the Elise interface missing on Rover #57 (though 114 still had it. Too bad I couldn’t load her to drive the thing.)
“Um… Julie? I think I just signed my own death warrant.”
Relax, John Farno, she said in my helmet. Let me take over your suit.
Great, now I was really inside Julie. There’s something Freudian about your EVA suit suddenly becoming a sentient female with you still inside it.
What happened to your patch kit? Did you forget it?
“No,” I said, “I remember exactly where it is. On Rover 19 next to the rad pills.”
We have rad pills, John Farno, but you can’t go outside with that suit. Look for an emergency pressure suit.
There are four rovers, sadly too primitive for me to take control of, in the adjacent storage vault.
*Sigh* I’ve been spoiled so far. Probably why I forgot the patch kit. Julie was probably already developing a mother subroutine to keep me from forgetting to wipe my own ass. Which really makes the Elise modules she glommed really creepy now.
“You’ll have to guide me over.”
Follow the path down the storage racks to the far wall. I’ll copy myself over to the next vault’s AI and be ready for you when you come over.
Here’s the thing about radiation from a fusion blast, clean or dirty. You don’t really know what it’s doing to you. The worst cases they have to pack you off to Gohem, which is the homeworld of the Orags, our brother humans who were taken away about 50,000 years ago. In that time, our Neanderthal brethren have become wizards at genetic repair and manipulation. I’ve also heard the treatment to repair severe gamma ray poisoning is not pleasant. I hoped I came away with nothing more than a sunburn.
The panic grew within me. The EVA suit told that most primitive part of my brain that there was no air outside, and that I was suffering a severe leak. It did not help that the helmet alarms kept kicking in every few minutes reminding me I had a suit breach. I’d forgotten what I was even doing when I tore the suit.
My leg started itching where the suit had torn. Was it cold? Was it hot? Was radiation cooking the skin off my leg? Would I explode leaving a suit full of chunky red goo? That was stupid. Most people who die of vacuum exposure leave an intact corpse. Not a pretty one, but intact.
John Farno, you need to calm down. Just follow my instructions and…
“Just tell me where to go next!”
If Julie could have slapped me, she would have.
Deep breaths. Down this aisle and straight until you reach the far wall.
I did as she was told. The aisle appeared to be the length of three football fields. It had started to look distorted. I’m pretty sure it was less than fifty meters, but my air was leaking. Radiation was cooking my leg. By the end of the aisle, I was running.
John Farno, you are using too much oxygen. Calm the fuck down!
Wow. Julie Seding had a mouth on her. Strange what pops into your mind when you believe you’re dying. I reached the wall, but I was hyperventilating. My vision started to blur.
There’s a hatch to the left, said Julie as I reached the wall. Get to it while I work the lock.
Sure enough, the hatch slid into the wall, opening a short passage into the next storage vault. Lights flickered on as I stumbled inside. I passed out.
When I awoke, I was staring at a man in late middle age who appeared never to have rejuvenated. He wore no EVA suit but looked dressed to attend a business meeting.
“Good afternoon,” he said. “I suppose I should say welcome to New Ares, but I’m not really here. Am I?”
“Julie, who is…?” It occurred to me that Julie had gone offline before my helmet chirped that the suit’s AI was rebooting. “Who are you?”
“I’m Tol Germanicus,” he said very calmly. “Or rather, a projection of him.”