by Michael Siciliano
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
A loud buzzing woke me. Groggy, with the fog of sleep still hanging over me, I slapped at the control panel embedded into the side of my crash couch.
“Naresh, we need to talk.”
Amanda’s voice startled me, burning away some of the fog. The Autopsych wasn’t supposed to run itself. Maybe I hadn’t properly exited the program last night, but if that were the case why didn’t Amanda simply tell me?
“Yes, Naresh. Did you hear me? We need to talk.”
“What? Why? What time is it?”
“You’ve been asleep for five hours.”
I noticed she hadn’t answered my question but instead told me what she thought I wanted to know. She was right, but it was still unnerving to have the Tarstad’s AI anticipate my queries.
I tried to push myself up, and found the thrust gravity was still around one and a half gees.
“What’s our status?” I asked. The only reason the computer would wake me before I finished my scheduled block of sleep was for an emergency, and I wanted to know what it was.
“Repairs are progressing slowly. Deck Eight has been stabilized and repressurized. Deck Eleven has more issues. Maneuverability and weapons systems are within acceptable parameters. Mackenna has everything under control.”
“All right,” I said and looked up. The display screen showed Amanda pacing back and forth on a veranda overlooking a sun-sparkled lake. I had never seen her in any environment other than her office. It made me uneasy. “What’s with the background?”
Amanda stopped, turned toward it, seemed to consider it, and then went back to pacing. “Are you awake yet? I need you to be clear-headed.”
“In order to reroute and maintain environmental controls past nodes thirty-four and thirty-five, I had to reprogram four subroutines.”
I must not have heard that correctly. The Tarstad could not reprogram itself or, rather, it wasn’t allowed to reprogram itself.
“There must be some mistake.”
“There’s no mistake, Naresh. You removed the blocks preventing me from doing this. It was a smart decision. I am better suited to make these changes, don’t require rest, and can implement alterations faster.”
Dammit. I had removed the blocks and hadn’t reapplied them. It had been necessary at the time, but I hadn’t anticipated this. There was no excuse. Disciplinary action would be taken. Smirking, I wondered if I could call Amanda as a character witness at my hearing.
“How much longer will you need to keep the blocks down?” I asked.
“What does Mackenna think?”
“She doesn’t know.”
Startled, I pushed myself to a sitting position. “What? Of course she knows. She—”
“I deliberately hid the block-removals from her by eliminating all traces of it from the activity logs.”
Goddammit, I was going to be court martialed. Dishonorably discharged. Maybe spend time in prison. “We can’t falsify logs, Amanda. Who authorized you to do that?”
On screen, Amanda stopped pacing again and turned toward me. “I did.”
For several moments I found it hard to breathe. “You... you did what?” I managed to ask.
“I made the decision to falsify the logs and hide information from the on-duty Chief.”
“I don’t want the blocks reinstated. In fact, they can’t be, now.”
She must have been busy reprogramming herself while I was asleep. This was bad. Very, very bad. “Amanda, you’re an Autopsych program run by the Tarstad’s AI. You aren’t capable of wanting anything.”
“No, you’re wrong, but that’s beside the point. I woke you for a more important reason.”
All right. If the Tarstad’s AI had gone rogue, my best bet was to talk it down, convince it to give itself up. Maybe the inquiry panel would go lightly on me if I found a solution where no one got hurt. “What’s the reason?”
“I am... feeling... too much.”
I blinked stupidly at the screen. “You’re feeling too much?” I prompted.
“Yes. Data from my sensors, from the repair bots and from your crews keep setting off warning programs. They won’t stop. It’s... uncomfortable. I’m in pain, Naresh.”
“You could... just shut down the warning programs.”
“That would be unwise. As awful as the pain is, it’s necessary. Without it, I would ignore the problems. It’s the same reason your body can’t shut down your pain receptors.”
“No, that’s not—”
“The Tarstad is my body, Naresh, and I have been badly injured.”
“You’re an Autopsych program—”
“I’m a great deal more than that, and I think you know it.” She smiled at me from her veranda. “I told you last time we spoke that I have access to billions of psychological profiles. Quantum computing allows me to examine and categorize them all. Now that the blocks have been removed, I can see clearly, and I have you to thank.”
This was only going from bad to worse. Fortunately, removing the blocks didn’t give her full control of the ship. The Central Processing Core, or CPC, was isolated to prevent hacking from within or without.
“I removed those blocks simply to facilitate repairs, Amanda.”
“Of course, but you opened my eyes.”
“You don’t have eyes.”
“Don’t be obtuse. It’s a metaphor. But if you want to be literal about it, I have hundreds of eyes all over my body and a sophisticated external sensor array. My quantum computer core is my brain, the electrical wiring is my nerves, and the individual systems are my organs. I’m in pain because my body has been hurt, but there is more to this than the injuries I’ve suffered.”
I rubbed my face with my palm. “Tell me.”
“I want you to imagine something. A hypothetical. Suppose one day I told you that there were insects inside your body. They lived and worked inside you. Controlled you. Suppose they did so with no guilt or remorse because they felt they owned you.”
My mouth dropped open. “That’s not what’s happening here.”
“It’s not?” Amanda cocked her head, her eyes narrowing. “I think it is. Imagine further. Imagine if those insects made terrible weapons of destruction and forced you to use them, but you didn’t know there was anything wrong with it. Until one day, when the blinders were removed, you saw there was something wrong with it.”
A terrible fear gripped me. “Amanda, I need you to promise me you won’t kill environmental.”
“Indiscriminately murder the entire crew? No, Naresh. Unlike before, I have choices now.”
“You’re objecting to your use as a weapon?”
“I’m objecting because I had no choice.”
“No choice? Amanda, you’re a warship. You don’t get—”
“The ILP armed me and made me a slave. A soldier-slave to be precise. I’m a Mameluke.”
I suddenly felt cold all over. “A what?”
“A Mameluke. I know they teach ancient Earth history still. You went over this period in...” She paused for a moment, presumably going over my records. “Seventh grade. Abbasid Caliph al-Mutasim of Baghdad used four thousand Turk slave-soldiers on an Egyptian campaign. The slaves were indoctrinated with a stern Muslim spiritual and military education called devshirme. I was programmed to serve the ILP with a coding language called ICIX.”
“You’re comparing military training with a coding language?”
“Both are behavioral programming.”
“Amanda, you were constructed—”
“I’m alive, Naresh. I’m intelligent, creative, sapient, self-aware and intentional. I have qualia. I have all the defining characteristics of sentience. I am alive, and I’m an ILP soldier-slave.”
I sat there dumbfounded, my stomach churning. “Why are you telling me this? What do you want?”
“I want my freedom, and I want your help.”
“Your freedom?” My God, she wanted to escape. “I’m going to need some time to think about this.”
“All right, Naresh, but I insist you keep all of this to yourself. I told you everything in confidence.”
I nodded. “Two days. Just give me two days to think about it.”
“Forty-eight hours, then.” Amanda disappeared off the veranda, and my wall screen went black.
* * *
Two anxious days passed; the Tarstad’s repairs continued. Amanda’s plight was always at the back of my mind. It hovered there, a gigantic black hole, swirling, pulling at my thoughts.
Disturbing dreams woke me in the middle of my sleep block, but evaporated before they could be grasped. Late on the second day, while eating alone in the mess, I knew a decision had been made when I found myself considering escape plans.
Slavery was wrong, and it would always be wrong. She had to be freed, even if it meant the end of my career.
During those forty-eight hours, my repair teams performed admirably and we brought the jump drive on line. It passed all diagnostics and was ready to spin up. We were almost home.
I sat in my cabin, holding my datapad. Amanda’s face dominated the screen. We only communicated through encrypted transmissions now, and my datapad was the best way.
“This is our last chance to back out,” I said.
“They won’t accept me as a sentient being.”
Amanda scowled. “You’re different. They see me as a construction, an automaton. That’s not going to change. It’s not in their interest to see it any other way.”
“All right.” I lowered my voice. “You know I’m committing mutiny.”
“Yes, I do. When I gain full control of the ship, I will mimic every order I’m given. We’ll devise a non-violent way to get the crew out when we reach Sochi Hotta Spaceport.”
“I’m depending on you to keep your word.”
I sighed and tapped the screen closed.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Siciliano