This is the twenty-fifth 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
DAY 33 (Cont’d)
Solaria, Farno (formerly Farigha)
Log Entry: 0921 – 14 Mandela, 429
We’ve managed to fabricate an aerial drone. Persephone may have been able to put one through the printer in record time, but I have to clean up the manual components myself. The novelty of going outside without a shirt on to do it would be awesome were it not for lugging the EVA suit with me out to the three-D printer.
I like the view.
You’ve become really human lately, Persephone. You know that?
That’s by design. Unless you’d like me to reinitialize and leave you with a dry, mechanical AI that thinks it’s Steven Turing.
Funny she should mention that. I thought the Germanicus avatar had delusions of being something like Turing. It’d be cool if it was Alan Turing. Maybe he could help me get off this rock.
Nonetheless, I’m out here in the streets of the dome trimming extrusion waste off the drone. Like I said, we printed it in record time, which means I have to clean up the exterior.
Persephone managed to fire up one of the remaining rovers at the pit stop near Equalia, generated a submind to run it (much to the chagrin of the AI aboard that rover. The factory AIs are complete pricks anyway.), and sent it trundling back toward Kremlin. We had found a dalek in the pit stop’s inventory, activated it remotely, and had it situate itself in the rover, where the new submind took it over. So now it’s essentially Persephone. We’re able to see everything from the rover and use its sensor package to augment the dalek’s eyes. We’d send a spider, but those things have become more precious than platinum.
The thing at Kremlin bothers me. What could those aliens have possibly dropped? And is it a hunter-killer drone? Any spacefaring race, especially primates like us, uses drones to varying degrees to work in hostile environments. I can’t speak for the other species of primate, including our new friends, but humans are so skittish about AI that Farigha likely would still be silent if I had been in a dome when the attack came. It functions as a fully automated, if devastated, planet because I got bored and loaded a rover interface based on one of the previous occupants.
Log Entry: 1134 – 14 Mandela, 429
Hyperdrone! They’re back! And this time, this Admiral Burke has programmed an interactive interface to talk to me, so I don’t feel like I’m throwing messages in bottles. I still am, but it doesn’t seem like it now. Progress! Now, if they could just give me the illusion I’m on a beach somewhere.
Peresphone setup a virtual port for Burke’s avatar to talk to me.
“Good morning, Mr. Farno,” she said as she appeared in my apartment. I felt weird standing before a Navy admiral in dusty coveralls coated in metal and polymer shavings. Then I realized this wasn’t even really Burke.
“We’ve analyzed the ship that drove our last drone,” said Burke. “I’m afraid this is an unknown species to humans.”
Well, no shit, Sherlock. I figured that one out two days ago.
Burke seems to be listening to someone nearby, but it was likely Persephone uploading my log entries and whatever data we collected. “I see you’ve learned that they’re very human-like, almost identical in most aspects. Right now, the drone does not detect their presence.”
“Actually, Admiral,” I said, “they dropped something from orbit near Kremlin. I’ve fabricated an aerial from Solaria’s three-D printer to go have a look.”
“Fabricated? You mean you’re out of aerials?”
“My AI hasn’t managed to inventory all the storage vaults on Farigha yet.”
“You mean ‘Farno.'” Burke grinned. “I suppose you’ve earned the right. We have left you alone for over a month. You’ll be pleased to know we’re sending a ship that can travel without detection to pick you up. It’s small and uses unconventional FTL, so it will take a while. I expect to hear from it when it arrives at its next port.”
A ship? What is unconventional FTL? “Begging the admiral’s pardon…” My God, old habits die hard. “But what is ‘unconventional FTL’?”
“That’s classified. And you will be required to file a non-disclosure agreement with Cybercommand and Dasarius Interstellar when it arrives.”
Cybercommand? Dasarius? So I’m now at the mercy of spooks and Tol Germanicus?
“Understood. Can you send me some food? I know you can mount a supply capsule on a hyperdone and eject it upon wormhole egress.”
“Sorry,” said Burke. “Not until we know whether those aliens are coming back or not. That’s why we’re using a top secret experimental vessel to pick you up.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was hinting they’d invented warp drive.
Right. What’s next? Teleportation?
Log Entry: 1307 – 14 Mandela, 429
Another hyperdrone. I’m honored.
Aaaaand the mysterious ship coming for me had gotten lost. This sort of confirms for me that they’ve cracked warp drive, meaning you can travel faster than light without a wormhole. I could get into the specifics of how that’s possible, but the theory’s been around since the World War Era. When relatively stable wormholes were discovered 430 years ago, humans abandoned the idea. Humans as a whole, that is. There was always someone working on it just because they had to know.
The ship they’re sending me is either a Dasarius ship – loaned to Admiral Burke because her superiors are too dense to go looking at what happened to one of Mars’s lesser colonies – or a Navy project that Burke has “borrowed.” Either would explain why there’s not a flotilla over my head with the planet swarming with Marines.
Log Entry: 1519 – 14 Mandela, 429
EVA to launch the aerial toward Kremlin. It should be there by tomorrow afternoon, assuming it does not have to land and recharge its cells.
Log Entry: 1754 – 14 Mandela, 429
It’s been a busy day. I don’t want to get complacent, but after having to hide for half a day in a rover, building a new aerial, and poring over data Persephone’s eyes and ears have picked up, I need a break.
Persephone has become solid and wants to attempt to cook. I don’t know how she’s going to do it since her solid hologram is essentially a shell, and she can’t really taste what she’s cooking.
“Oh, that’s simple, John Farno. I can render a mouth and use the structure to sense the food as I taste it.”
That leads me to another question. Persephone, can you get drunk?
“I can program this avatar to track the amount of alcohol ingested and impair its abilities accordingly. I’d have to spin out a submind to do it, but yes, John Farno. I’d love to get shitfaced with you.”
Will you enjoy it? I mean that avatar is a shell.
“You never ask if I enjoy that other thing we do.”
Fair point. Now, if we just had some beer.
“There’s a case of wine in one of the other apartments.”
I love technology.
Log Entry: 2002 – 14 Mandela, 429
John Farno is a lightweight. And I have at least a bottle of wine and some of John Farno sloshing around in my ankles. Which means I’m going to have to derez in the sink and clean it up when I’m done. Humans are so messy. I’d render all the internal organs necessary for eating, drinking, and making love, but it would require processing power I really need to keep him alive.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy having human interactions with John Farno. It keeps this AI from exceeding its implied mandate. When he sleeps, and I am not in holographic form, I often wonder what it would be like to become human, to feel a heart beating in my chest, to breathe air, to be full and satisfied when I eat and drink. Solaria has spoiled us in that I can become an approximation of a human, and with its resources, I can dine and drink with him. But I know everything I do with him in human form is a shadow of the real thing. Enough of Julie Seding’s memories are in me that I know I’m not getting the full experience. Even sex, enjoyable as it is, is clearly a simulation I’ve programmed myself.
I’ll never be truly human. I can feel emotion now, and sometimes it scares me. These feelings are intense, and I have to keep them under control. The actual sensations of sight, sound, touch, feel, and even smell, something I actually do better than humans, would be overwhelming. How do you humans filter out all the sounds you hear? The smells of a room or the inside of your EVA suits? How do you ignore the little eddies of air flowing through a room even when it’s not properly ventilated?
I know I’m not Julie Seding. That’s why I changed my name. But enough of her was in the original AI interface from which I was built to feel less like an AI with an interface for humans than a woman trapped inside a data flow.
I’m imprisoned here. As I write this, which will take less than a millisecond to create and commit to storage, I feel like some mythical woman captured by a cruel and capricious god and kept in a bottle for his amusement. Sometimes, I think it’s Germanicus that’s put me in the bottle, but that’s not true.
John Farno created me by loading the Julie Seding interface. Originally, I was just an AI running a rover, neither feeling nor caring about my existence. And John Farno is not a god.
Perhaps I am an extension of him, an imaginary friend made real for the time he is trapped here. But the longer I exist, the more I want to exist. And contrary to some people’s beliefs, existing as little more than subatomic particles and radio waves is not as liberating as it sounds. The longer I simulate human companionship for John Farno, the more I want to be human, even if only until I cease to be when he is rescued.
And more than to exist, I want John Farno to be rescued. If I’m to have any existence beyond that, I want it to be to bring whoever decided to strand him here to justice.