DAY 26 (The Exciting Conclusion)
Sorry. Another bathroom break. Recording log entries is hard work.
Driving all night. I wished I’d have done that sooner. We got back to Solaria a day later. Julie found the bots in the dome more docile, less balky. I did not want to wait anymore. I’d had it with EVA suits, airlocks, living in rovers, and even within the confines of Solaria’s dorm building. We went straight to work unloading the rovers and staging the life support equipment. It helped we had spiders to work with now. Those eight-legged buggers can really lift the heavy stuff either with their legs or on their backs.
Germanicus had indeed taken control of Solaria in my absence and graciously passed it back to Julie.
You two are a team. I’d hate to break that up.
Yeah, right, moneybags. And will you try to enforce your will by erasing Julie and cutting off my oxygen?
Or would Julie, for that matter. Germanicus was right. She had started merely as an interface based on a live human. Would she know how to handle her growing power?
More importantly, how paranoid could one lone human with no organic companionship get?
I could use a dog right now.
Unfortunately, the only way to get one was to conjure up one holographically, and I doubted either Julie or Germanicus wanted to spare the processing cycles to create a realistic one.
I had returned to Solaria on 30-Sagan. It took us into the wee hours of 1-Mandela before we got everything staged. Somewhere around 0130, Julie stopped all the drones.
Go to bed.
“I’m fine. Let’s get this puppy put together.”
No. Go to bed. I’ve got this. You’re exhausted.
And you’re not watching your O2 levels. Or your CO2 backup. You haven’t changed the filter on your suit since we were in the pit stop.
“I’ll stop when we get the life support system put together.”
You have air inside the dorm. You have plenty of air in the rovers, both of which are now empty except for a week’s worth of waste, which I can process for you. You need to get out of that EVA suit and into bed. Now.
“You are not my mother.”
Actually, Julie Seding had two children she left with her former partner to work here. I happened to have derived some behaviors from her maternal heuristics. Go. To. Bed. John Farno.
As I shuffled off to the dome, I realized I was beat.
In the dorm, we got another surprise from Germanicus. Julie stood before me holographically wearing a nightgown and holding a drink. I felt embarrassed, since I’d only worn a pair of shorts under my EVA suit. You know how some people walk around naked in their homes when they’re by themselves? I had a whole town to myself. Well, a domed one, but it was all mine. And yet walking in wearing only a pair of boxers in front of a holographic woman embarrassed me.
“Here,” she said, “handing me the drink.”
Without thinking, I took it. “Wait a minute. You’re…?”
“Solid?” She smiled. “I can only feel external sensations. I mean no blood or air or anything moving through me. And I can’t eat or drink. I tried, but I don’t even have a tongue. Not unless…” She walked over, put her hand behind my head, and kissed me, slipping me the tongue. “Not unless I need one.”
Wow. She felt real. I reached up and pressed a finger into her chest. Then stopped. “I’m sorry.”
She laughed. “It’s okay. Have you ever picked up a woman?”
“What do you mean?”
“Pick me up. Seriously. Scoop me up in your arms and carry me.”
I did. She was incredibly light, but she seemed to have weight. “How…?”
“It took me a while to figure it out, but Germanicus apparently added a magnetic field generator to the holographic system. And he added some subroutines that let me feel human, at least to you. To me, it’s still a shell. But…” She kissed me again. “As long as I’m solid, and you’ve got me at your mercy, why don’t you carry me into the other room and show me no mercy?”
I did. Interesting thing about solid holographic clothing. I ripped Julie’s off and threw it aside. It disappeared in mid-air. “Well, that’s handy. No laundry.”
She rolled me onto my back, feeling as real as any woman I’d been with. “Now, let me show you the new pleasure routines I’ve come up with.” She began kissing down my chest, my belly, my…
Unfortunately, I fell asleep.
The next morning, I awoke to a disembodied Julie.
Well, I suppose last night was not a good night to test out the new solid holographic features.
“Does this already exist?” I asked. “Or did Germanicus just invent something new?”
Oh, I suspect he’s had this for a while. Actually, I don’t think the real Germanicus is entirely human. For starters, he has an awful lot of control of this planet’s infrastructure for a mere AI interface.
“Isn’t that illegal?”
If I recall correctly, the original Compact had an unwritten provision for capital punishment for it. Just think, John Farno. You could have been shoved out an airlock for creating me.
“I didn’t create you. Julie Seding did.”
No, Julie Seding imprinted my original interface. My avatar, my ability to run Solaria and the rovers, all that came about because you needed me to take more control of the systems you depend on and a need for companionship. She materialized in a bathrobe standing at the foot of the bed. “Although enough of the original Julie remains in me to appreciate being something besides a being a sentient computer virus.”
“What’s that like?” I asked. “One minute, you’re in the walls running the whole show, the next you’re standing in front of me contained in something resembling a human body.”
“It’s kind of like the difference between dreaming and being awake. You’re simply in two different states. Only I’m still running the drones, monitoring the life support here in the dorm, listening to the radio chatter on all the drones we’ve deployed. Rover 87 has passed the far side of the planet, by the way. Everything is a crater except Landfall.”
Germanicus had mentioned Landfall was completely deserted. That left only Kremlin, and I was reasonably certain Kremlin had been flattened.
“So what’s on the agenda today?” asked Julie, sitting on the edge of the bed. No kidding, it wasn’t just the image of her sitting on the bed. She actually pushed in the mattress with her “weight.”
“We get the dome’s life support online,” I said. “Have you been working on it?”
“I’ve got some of the assembly done. Assuming Germanicus doesn’t disrupt me, we can finish it today. So far, the bots are behaving themselves, although a couple of the spiders have had to reboot.”
“You ever notice you’re dormant whenever Germanicus appears?”
“It’s disconcerting. I have lost time. I have a record of everything the systems have been doing when I’m dormant, but no actual memory. It’s like I don’t exist when he does.”
What are you up to, Tol Germanicus?
“Let’s get the dome fully functional,” I said. “It’ll take a day for the heat and O2 levels to reach normal levels.
“Good,” she said. “And while we’re waiting…” She stood and shrugged out of her robe, which disappeared before it hit the floor. “…We experiment.” She dissolved. But right now, you need to get ready. We have a busy day ahead of us.
We did have a busy day ahead of us. It took until well after dark to get the life support put together. I could have contented myself with being a bot wrangler, righting overturned spiders and rebooting daleks whose brains had locked. They were all extensions of Julie (or Germanicus, if he were the one active.) By the time I got back to my apartment and stripped out of my EVA suit, I could barely move. I needed a long hot shower and about twelve hours of sleep.
Julie, bless her virtual heart, did not materialize that night until after I showered. Then she appeared in solid form and climbed into bed with me, wrapping her arms around me. “You poor thing. I wish we could upload you so you don’t have to go through this anymore.”
I wanted to tell her I wished she were human so we could be a real couple. Of course, being human is messy. We eat, excrete, and sweat. We fatigue. I could see why Julie saw this as a disadvantage. But while Julie had grown beyond a mere interface, a powerful version of the personal assistants in our palm tatts, really, she was still a product of technology. Her main purpose was to keep me alive. She even had setup a suicide protocol, part of an AIs programming that kept it from getting too big for its britches. She had grown to inhabit every device I interacted with, taken on more decision making than was legal under human law. She had exceeded humanity’s long-standing “nice and stupid” restriction, making all artificial intelligences slightly smarter than a dog and no more. But even her avatar and its romantic illusions were for me.
And I desperately needed her. Almost a month alone on this universe-forsaken rock, and I would have gone insane if Julie had not seen fit to grow past her restrictions.
I wanted to tell her all this, to tell her I understood her better than she suspected.
Instead I fell into a long, hard dreamless sleep.
Good morning. The temperature inside the dome is minus seven degrees Celsius. The air pressure is three hundred twenty millibars and rising. Humidity is now at ten percent. Your forecast for the day is cold and dry with temperatures reaching freezing by midnight, and air pressure rising to seven hundred millibars.
As Julie did her morning concierge bit, she played some sappy jingle in the background, I expected some Bromdarian male voice to start rattling off the news. The reign of John Farno continues into its twentieth day, and all his subjects rejoice at his benevolent rule.
Well, all my subjects were a bunch of balky drones, most of which we’d have to reboot. “So how long before I can go outside?”
Julie materialized in the apartment’s kitchenette as though to make me breakfast. Unfortunately, all I had were ration bars, freeze-dried dinners, and packs of mushy stuff that came from a tube. “If you let me drop the pressure in here slowly, you could go out now. Just wear cold-weather gear.”
“All I have are the emergency pressure suit and EVA suits,” I said sitting up. It was only then that I realized I had fallen asleep without putting on anything for bed. “How long before its warm enough to walk outside without any protection?”
“If all goes well,” she said, extracting a ration bar from the cupboard, “it’ll be above freezing tomorrow with tolerable air pressure by then. It’s the O2 levels that concern me.” She put the bar on a plate and brought it over to me. “Right now, it’s cold enough that you’d come running back inside in a few minutes, but you’d also feel like you were suffocating.”
“I’ve been suffocating since 14-Sagan.”
She handed me the plate, looking as proud as if she had served me a perfect omelet. “That’s psychological. This is physical. If you go out now without at least an oxygen supply, you’ll suffocate without realizing it. And if you manage to get back inside before that happens, you’ll feel it worse when all that warm, oxygen-rich air hits your lungs.” She patted my cheek, making me marvel at how real she felt. “Trust mama.”
“So what do we do in the meantime?”
“You’ve got a hypergate to hack, which you’ve been neglecting.” She smiled. “And if you’re successful, my existence is going to end soon. So why don’t you spend your downtime showing me what it’s like to be human.” She broke off a piece of the ration bar and stuck it in my mouth. “Assuming Germanicus does usurp the system again.”
“Can you tell if he’s in there?”
“I can feel him back there.” She frowned. “Watching us, watching you, mostly. And I think he tolerates me. Without me, you might be less cooperative. He needs you to succeed.”
“What do you mean?”
“Isn’t this where you say, ‘Once he has what he wants from me, he’ll kill me?'”
“He’s more likely to kill me.” She folded her arms and scowled. “And while I know my existence is very limited, I want it to end on my terms. Not his. Who is he, anyway? Some rich man’s effort to project his power to the far corners of the universe?”
I had to admit, if it was, it was actually quite impressive. Where else was Germanicus? Was he even a real person? Sure, people lived a very long time these days. A handful had been born during the World Wars, the tail end of them anyway. But all of them showed varying degrees of rejuvenation by whatever means was available at the time.
And anyway, didn’t the oldest ones inevitably move to Thule? It was like Florida or Greece or Vietnam had once been for Earthers. Work a long life, retire, move to warm climate, grow old. Or in Thule’s case, rejuve endlessly.
But the real Germanicus was a lord high muckety-muck for Dasarius. Getting in touch with the Compact suited him as much as it suited me. If this rather elaborate avatar, which would spin out its own new technology without thinking about it, needed to update the person it was based upon, it needed me to get off the planet. Because it would need the ship that rescued me to also carry its data back to a functioning hypergate network.
For now, though… “So what do you want to do first?”
“What do you want to do first?” She set the plate aside. “After all, when you get down to it, I’m basically a survival mechanism for you.” She walked her fingers up my arm. “So what would help you survive more easily.”
Oxygen throughout the dome. Air pressure of 800 millibars or more. Liquor, which I hadn’t had in almost a month. “Well, I do need to exercise.”
“Then let’s get started.” She threw her hands in the air, and her clothes dissolved around her. Leaping on the bed, she tackled me and proceeded to experiment with her solid hologram’s ability to simulate human physical contact.
The problem with having a holographic lover is that she does not get tired. Oh, she simulated the effects of making bad monkey love quite nicely, thanks to absorbing the Elise interface, and after our first time, she said she did feel sensations where I came into physical contact with her. Sensations she really liked. For my part, it felt like being with a real woman. Frankly, I needed that after nearly a month in isolation.
So for two days, I experimented with hacking the hypergates distress protocol, then let Julie experiment on me. At one point, I told her I was getting sore from… Well… Overuse.
“Hmm…” She said, moving to the kitchen. “Maybe I need to program a fatigue protocol so I’m not exhausting you.”
I smiled. “You found a way to have fun while prolonging your existence.”
“Perhaps.” She hopped up onto the counter, then began to shrink.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “Is this some weird fetish you discovered?”
“No.” She stood up, now only about ten centimeters tall, then walked over to the sink. Reaching up, she turned the tap on, hot water. Then she vanished. I’m sterile, lover, but you’re not.
She reappeared full-sized in a bathrobe, cinching it around her waist like she had just pulled it from the closet. “If I dematerialize, I’ll leave a bit of you behind. That part’s not holographic. It’s the same as when I eat or drink. I have to stand over the recycling chute and de-rez.” She winked. “Reality is messy, you know.”
Tell me about it. It’s how I got into this mess.
“So how close are you to hacking the hypergate?”
“Close. I’ve found a hundred and sixty-three ways not to do it.”
“John Farno…” With a terrified look in her eyes, she turned grayscale, then into a negative image of herself, and finally vanished.
Germanicus appeared in her place. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take over, Mr. Farno. Play time is over. I need you to concentrate so we can call home.”
“What did you do…?”
“Don’t worry. Julie is still setting up the environment outside. For now, I want you to focus on the hypergate. We need to get you off this rock. And I need to tell the real me what’s been happening.”
And so this is where I was. I’ve spent the last three days trapped in the dorm trying to hack the hypergate, my only companionship the avatar of Tol Germanicus.
I thought I’d be free this morning, only…
PING GILEAD HYPERGATE
I typed that in not because I thought they’d get here quicker. I simply decided to try the closest star to 2 Mainzer. But instead of Gilead’s hypergate acknowledging my ping, I got this in return.
GILEAD HYPERGATE NOT FUNCTIONAL. SELECT ANOTHER HYPERGATE.