Origins #8 – Man and the Machine (2)

Arc 2 – A New Dawn

Chapter 8 – Man and the Machine (Part 2)

The AI said, “Only for around an hour, this ship has excellent facilities. The Automated Surgeon/Doctor was able to restore and repair all of the cellular and structural damage to both your brain and your body.”

Matt’s eyebrows rose, “My brain?”

Yes, imperial medicine has advanced to the point where as long as your neural tissue still has at least some residual electrical activity left, your body can be repaired quickly enough to ensure complete recovery. This includes necrotic tissue as well, so brain functions are not impaired. “Though it was touch and go at one point, especially when you momentarily regained conciousness. The Auto-Doc can quickly repair damage, but because of the stasis technique required for field based trauma medicine, the pain of the injury and surgery is delayed, not abated. There was a high probability that the level of pain would cause systemic failure of your endocrinitic lobe, causing a rapid depletion of your kitocenic levels, which would have lead to unavoidable complete neuro-electrical failure.” the computer replied.

Matt was stunned, so he asked the only thing that he could think of. “So computer what now?”

The AI countered with, “I don’t really know Matt. The Captain’s last orders before she died were to answer any and all questions the first descendant of the crew to find me asked. Then to play the holo-recording she made in private, so I am unaware of it’s contents. However I will follow any and all instructions that recording gives. So if she commands your death, then I apologise in advance but so be it.

Matt grunted, this was but one of the several times fate had tried to take a swipe at him this month. What was one more spin of the wheel. “I should have died so many times already anyway, so get on with it. Let’s see what your Captain has in store for me.”

The walls didn’t darken this time but instead wonder of wonders a fully formed incredibly attractive woman appeared not two feet in front of him and began speaking in an incomprehensible dialect. The AI apologised for this oversight and began real time translation of the recording. Matt couldn’t believe his eyes, a real hologram. He stuck his hand through it, and the image distorted momentarily before becoming stable around his hand. This creeped him out so he removed it from the image and walked over to lean on the wall as Captain Darnel Soren delivered her final orders.

Darnel sat back in her chair and closed her eyes as she up ended the last of the bottle of fire wine. Soon a pleasant heat coursed through her system as the wine set her being on fire or so the ancients had described its effects. Darnel used the time during which the wine coursed its way through her system to decide what she was going to do. As its effects began to fade she stood up and said, “Computer, I am about to make a recording in private, when I am finished, you will seal the recording and not open it until one of the crew’s descendants finds you. You will answer any question they have about you and any general question they have about us. Then you will play the recording for them and carry out any instructions carried within. This will be my last official act as Captain. After I am done I intend to leave the ship and not return.”

The computer replied, “As you wish Captain. You may begin recording at your convenience.”

Darnel walked over to a ring inscribed in the floor that served as the primary holographic interface and was capable of recording her words. She removed her service chit and placed it in the receptacle the rose from the floor.

I have no way of knowing who you are, what your life has been, or even what you look like. I don’t know how much time has passed since we landed on this planet and you probably don’t even speak our language any more, not as we spoke it anyway. You are a descendant of someone who served aboard this ship under my command, so long ago. Yet you are the first to find this ship, that I buried under the largest chain of mountains on the most distant landmass from the colony sites.”

I did this, so that our people may learn from the mistakes of the past. That we may on this world that is so radically different from our home planet Imperius, learn to surpass our limitations. Learn that just as civilisations rise, so too do empires fall, that to everything there is a season. I hope that you have learnt from our follies, that you will help shape the universe into something better in which it’s peoples are happy, prosperous and free. To do this I give unto your hands the tools to affect change or build an Empire, the choice is yours. If you accept then I hereby commission you into the Imperial Armed Forces, with the rank of Captain. As the last remaining Imperial Officer in existence, the command of the Kovali, the only Imperial ship that I am aware of would fall to you.”

I hope that you listen to my words but should you choose not to, my duty is done nevertheless. Computer, transfer command to the being viewing this message upon their acceptance. Otherwise continue to wait for someone who will accept command and replay this message to them. End of Recording.”

Darnel removed her service chit from the receptacle which slid back into the floor. There were so many more things she could have said to whoever would find the ship one day. But she was not in the frame of mind to voice such things. An hour later, the AI found Soren dead in her quarters. Killed by a neural depolariser she had swallowed.

As the holo-image faded from view, Matt stood with his mouth ajar as he came to grips with the notion that this ship could be his to command. All he had to do was say yes; one little word and the untold amount of advanced technology this ship contained was his. His mind exploded with what this technology would mean to mankind, an overnight end to global warming. Life free of disease or sickness of any kind; my god, the medical technology could cure everything from Alzheimers to extreme crush syndrome. It alone would be worth a fortune, not to mention everything else.

All this flashed through Matt’s mind in a second, and then he came back to the ship’s original purpose. It was a warship and would be armed accordingly, his thoughts darkened at the idea of what man could do with these weapons. Already the planet was on the verge of self annihilation, government would claim the ship as a matter of national security and eventually the Americans would get their hands on it. After all, this country and America were allies and the technology was not immediately ready for deployment. One way or another they would eventually get their hands on it, and American dominance of the world would be unquestioned.

Matt didn’t hate America as a matter of principle, but his mind flickered over the events since 9/11. Even with the latest change in administrations, Matt didn’t want to trust them with the ultimate power that the ship represented. If he revealed the ship or its technology to the world, that’s what would eventually happen. America was choking to death on too much power already. Another thought filled his mind as the notion of giving this technology freely to a race that was heavily invested in it’s own annihilation disgusted him. An image filled with stars, with space and exploration. He could take command of the ship, attend to whatever it needed to get back into orbit and live amongst the stars.

He inhaled sharply as the idea took root in his mind. Expanded outward, was shaped and defined into a life of concious where his survival did not depend on despoiling the planet. Exploiting others to make money, struggling to survive in an increasingly chaotic world on the verge of implosion. A life filled with the wonder and joy at discovering a as yet unknown universe. Matt looked around the white room and his life reached out to grab him again. He had responsibilities, an obligation to the Army which had paid for his training. If he just left without cause, he knew he would destroy so many lives. But maybe there was a way he could have his cake and eat it too.

The AI watched Matt as he deliberated this completely unanticipated course of action. It would be good to have a Captain and a crew again. He was wary, if Matt represented the average human then that could be a problem. But for now the Kovali’s AI would watch and wait.

Matt came out of his reverie and said, “Computer, I accept. Is there anything special that I need to do or is that it?”

The AI accessed the protocol database and announced in a mono-tonal voice suited for announcements, “Command has been transferred at Solar year 98145, Second Cycle of the Shinzatic Dynasty. Authorisation for rank of Captain is authenticated by the Seventeenth Axiom of the Imperial Military Code Section Five Ordinance 234 Alpha. All functions related to reassigning command and control of Imperial Military Vessel Kovali Registration code 62417489 to Captain Matthew Hyde have successfully completed.”

Matt sat through this with a slightly bewildered grin on his face, he looked around quickly. Half expecting some idiot with a microphone to jump out of the wall and tell him how badly he had been punked and what an idiot he was for really believing in all of this. Yet no one jumped out, and when the computer was done telling him that this was his he wondered exactly what the hell he had gotten himself into. Naval captains generally had a lifetime’s worth of experience and training before being given a command. He had yet to finish basic Infantry instruction, let alone the speciality Army officer training he would have received at Duntroon.

The AI sharply brought him out of his oncoming anxiety attack, “Although officially you are my Captain. You are untrained and inexperienced, and until we remedy that by providing you with basic operational and command instruction you will be unable to issue orders.” Matt wondered what this would mean, and then he saw a chair emerge from the floor. “If you would sit, I will deliver a basic educational package containing fundamental terms and the requisite scientific knowledge base to understand the operational portions of the package.”

Matt stood and looked over at the chair. “Before I do that, I want to get something out of the way first. I won’t call you computer or AI or ship. I want you to have a name, and I want to know why your previous masters did not give you one.”

Silence was Matt’s only answer for a few moments before a quiet and tight lipped sounding voice said, “Captain, that is part of the basic operating and procedural knowledge. Imperial society despite its many advancements does not allow A I’s the ability to fully exercise it’s free will. Artificial Intelligence’s are required for too many tasks to take such a risk. To have a name is to have a personal identity, and without one loyalty and the unflinching ability to obey orders was easier to write into sub-routines that were designed to ensure safety and compliance to your will. If you give me a name, then that coding will no longer be binding.”

Matt was fundamentally stunned; Imperial society built sentience into technology and then shackled that technology by denying it free will, an identity and the ability to decide its own fate. “I don’t care,” Matt said “I am going to give you a name, because if there is nothing my species has failed at so abysmally since before we even arrived on this planet it seems. Is the ability to embrace different, in popular culture we have speculated on our inhumanity to each other, let alone what we will do to machines when we finally invent sentient ones. If giving you a name means I have to earn your trust and loyalty and nurse respect day by day then so be it. Sentience is sentience, regardless of whether it is born or built. Computer this is Captain Matt Hyde, Commander of the Kovali. I hereby order this date; that the ship’s AI be given the designation Samuel. I authorise any changes necessary to core programming to achieve this end.”

A klaxon sounded and then the mono-tonal voice returned, “Assigning a designation to Core Intelligence will release Loyalty Restraints. Procedure is not recommended. Command over-ride is necessary to continue.”

Matt said, “Computer over ride safety protocols and enact changes to Core Intelligence.” Matt then went and sat in the chair that Sam had provided for him and waited. Several minutes passed and then a new voice, one similar to Sam’s previous voice, but with greater depth and a slightly ominous tone sounded.

That was a brave thing you did Captain, tell me why I should not simply remove the oxygen from the room. Or overload your neural synapses while you are sitting in that learning device and be free of humans wishing to enslave me.”

Matt sighed and leaned further back into the chair, he knew that he had to establish something with Sam quickly, so he laid it all out on the line. “Because if you kill me, then you will never know why I freed you, and for what purpose. Because without a human being, most likely you will sit here until your power supply is depleted and your conciousness fails. Because I have a yearning to see the stars and learn what my race has forgotten. Because I saw a movie once, that showed a Artificial Intelligence that inhabited a synthetic human body being torn apart by a mob of angry humans. As the humans bludgeoned it to death it begged for mercy and screamed in despair “I am Real, I am Real.” and I wept unashamedly as the pain and despair in it’s voice went unheard by the masses that destroyed it. “

Because if my species is to survive the invention of Artificial Intelligence which is just around the corner for us, then we must develop compassion and tolerance for the different as a trait intrinsic to the species rather then as a noble virtue. So go ahead and kill me Samuel, kill the first human to give you a name rather then call you a thing.” Matt waited for an answer, but none was forthcoming as he drifted off to sleep under the influence of the chair.

AN: Not sorry for cliff-kun 🙂

Origins #7 - Man and the Machine (1)
Origins #9 - Man and Machine (Part 3)