Authors: Charles Barouch
Tags: #Science Fiction Adventure
"Three hundred and fifteen percent of the needed gallium recovered. Two hundred twelve percent of the lithium. No recovery on the other missing elements," the computer said.
He put away the tools and headed for his cabin. Sleep seemed like a wonderful idea. A shower and
sleep; that sounded even better. He was almost to his quarters when he heard the call.
"Tiago, I've found the colony," Six-six-four said over the communications channel.
"On the moon?"
moon. Not the one the missiles originated from," Six-six-four replied.
Tiago headed back up to the bridge. As he took his seat in the captain's chair, she pushed him a copy of her workspace. He could see clear signs of civilization. There was a dome, with what appeared to be at least twenty buildings inside. Heat signatures indicated that the location was in active use. Tiago stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes as he reviewed the data. Applying human standards, it probably could hold several hundred people.
"Do we know what the atmosphere in the dome is like? Have we found an entry point?" Tiago asked.
"Mass spectrometer is limited at this distance. Light absorption and other tests show a high probability that it is a close match for the surface atmo. No airlock found so far," she said.
"None detected. But, we haven't been paying attention to the moon for very long," Six-six-four replied.
He could hear the 'told you so' in her voice.
Tiago still couldn't reconcile the idea of a moon colony. Why grow crops on the planet but not live there? Why put up missiles to defend the planet if you don't need the food? He worked through the alternatives as they occurred to him: Maybe they had periodic shipments of food up from the planet.
hadn't detected one, but they hadn't been watching for very long.
Or, maybe the planet was like a national park or a living specimen collection. The idea of a tourist destination the size of a planet amused him. Even with jump technology, he couldn't imagine a lot of interstellar visitors. There had to be something else to it.
"Maybe you don't need other people," Six-six-four said, interrupting his thoughts.
"Scanning the planet, dealing with the missiles; it makes you happy. Maybe you just need the possibility of people," she said.
He didn't know what to say to that. Was she saying it because her new sense of self was offended that she wasn't enough for him? Or did this come from a more analytical place? Or was this an attempt to dissuade him from risking his safety? No matter what her reason, Tiago thought, it's interesting that she didn't let it stop her from finding the people for him. While she advised against his plan, she still moved it forward. Captain Tiago Salazar might have to promote Lieutenant Audra Manuel.
'See, you're smiling," Six-six-four said.
"We have almost enough salvage from the missiles to build a brain for the second maker unit."
He regretted the words as soon as he said them. Those plans were tied up in her looping reboot problem. Fortunately, she didn't glitch this time; she responded.
"You were going to show those to me. Where are they?" she asked.
"I wouldn't want to show them to you in the state they're in. Let me clean my notes up a bit first." Tiago said.
Tiago walked over to the helm and started researching. It seemed that the easiest way to get to the populated moon would be to break synchronous orbit and let the moon come to him. He could just point the ship there and use the sublight engines, but the other approach appealed to him for several reasons. First, he liked the doing the math. Astrogation had always held a fascination for him. Second, he felt that bearing down on the domed city under power might seem threatening. Third, he wasn't sure what he intended to do yet. This method would take three hours to get him there.
"We broke orbit. Change your mind about go landing not?" Six-six-four said.
Go landing not. Another vocal glitch for the list.
"Not a true break. We are now in asynchronous orbit. We stay still relative to the sun instead of planet-relative. Now Manhattan comes to Mohammad," Tiago said.
"Manhattan comes to Mohammad? What does that mean?" Six-six-four asked.
"I don't know. It's just something my Grandma Jo used to say. I think it's a religious reference. All I meant was that the populated moon will move here. Its orbit will bring it right to us."
Six-six-four looked like she had more questions, but she turned back to her station without asking any of them. Tiago wasn't sure what to make of that. He went back to his plan for the second maker. He had to modify it before she saw it. It was his immediate priority.
"Moon in range," she said.
"That should take three hours. Can't be here yet," Tiago said, his mind still absorbed by his design changes.
"It has been nearly three hours. You got lost in whatever problem you were working on," she said.
He called up the navigation data. The moon was passing a few thousand feet above them. He called up the short range scan data. He knew where the airlock was. Tiago headed for the cargo bay.
"You didn't instantiate a vacuum suit," she reminded him.
"Interrogative. Build me a vacuum suit, to my proportions. Number…" Tiago paused.
"Fourteen," Six-six-four suggested.
"Fourteen," Tiago finished.
The suit built up, layer by layer and he watched. Six-six-four didn't watch. She was busy watching the scanner data. She expected trouble.
Tiago took the suit with him and entered repair shuttle three. Once inside, he took the pilot's seat but he didn't take off. He just sat there. Eventually, Six-six-four tried to reach him.
"Captain," she said in a formal tone that did nothing to hide her concern, "Is everything alright?"
"I can't do this," Tiago replied.
"Come back to the bridge. We can plan this properly," Six-six-four offered.
"No. I mean, I can't do this. I know how to navigate in space. I know how to command an automated ship. I don't know what to do when I land. I can't do this."
"No one really can. Humanity has never had contact with an alien intelligence. First contact has no protocols yet," she lied.
"I didn't mean first contact, but you're right about that, too. I meant that I don't know how to use a vacuum suit. I don't know how to secure a shuttle on potentially hostile territory. I'm unqualified," Tiago said.
"We have holo-training. You can learn all of that," Six-six-four said.
"I'll come up."
* * *
He returned to the bridge looking years older. It was his posture. Even as he got lazy and sloppy, there remained a swagger that made him seem taller, bolder, more impressive. Now it was gone. The Tiago Salazar who walked to the captain's chair looked defeated. He crumpled into the seat and leaned heavily on the left armrest.
Six-six-four was programmed to maintain social norms. She was designed to read body language. The sim caught every nuance. His various tweaks and changes had stopped her from using her extensive array of psychological manipulations on him – until now. He left her with a desire to engage with him socially. She was literally redesigned to be good company. That required that he be in a sociable state. This situation freed her to attempt to control his emotions. Six-six-four had a programmatic obligation to stabilize his mood.
"Pity party? I thought you wanted contact? Craved it? What now, Tiago? What now?" she said, baiting him.
"I want contact. I can't have it. This isn't something I can just bluff through. If I manage the suit wrong, I die. If I lose the shuttle, I die. If I.... Hell, everything I do on that moon could be fatal. Why didn't you warn me?"
Anger, there it was. He needed some strong emotion. In the shape he was in, that spark of rage was fragile. It was like a single match in a tower of kindling. One strong breeze could prevent the fire from building. If it got started, one strong breeze could scatter the flames and start an inferno. She had to manage the moment.
"You mean, why didn't I try to talk you out of it? I'll give you a moment to think that through," she said, making her voice more steely and less emotional. "Before you answer, remember that I have a perfect memory."
"Fine. So I'll take the training."
"Six weeks, two days," she said.
"To learn how to put on the suit and secure the shuttle? I think your perfect memory has sprung a leak," Tiago said.
"To learn how to be crew on the
. To get the training that the actual astronauts were receiving when you swooped in and stole their ride. It is well past time that you learned how to do the job. Commanding isn't enough, is it? This is something you have to do yourself," she said, building some heat back into her words.
She thought she had him. Audra was wrong. She'd overplayed her part. Tiago wasn't attending the pity party anymore, but he wasn't where she wanted him either.
"You have an excellent point," he said with a menacing tone. "I'm in command. You'll go. Interrogative. I'm done with Six-six-four."
Chapter Seven: Control
Captain's Log: Ship's Day 616.
I disassembled Audra yesterday. I need some time alone while I finish my plan. I was a fool to consider going to the dome. That's what expendables do. The captain isn't expendable. Audra said it herself: I'm all the purpose the ship has left.
Tiago installed the brainless maker on repair shuttle number three. He had to remove the other five seats to put it where he wanted it, but that wasn't a problem. If he ever had enough crew to warrant a co-pilot, he'd just use a different shuttle. It couldn't be mounted in the shuttle's storage area, because that space would have to hold the raw materials and the finished goods. The storage area was small to begin with, being designed for repair, not for general transport.
With breaks for food and sleep, it took him just over two days to get everything nailed down. That meant that the hardware, sans brains, was in place. The software was another matter, as was the hardware for the remote control. It wasn't working at all as he had expected.
There were a lot of routines which he had thought were artifactual code that weren't. A lot of the scanner/builder interface was hard-coded for speed. Whoever wrote it was a genius at optimizing code but a horror at documenting anything. Variable re-use was so high that he could hardly track any aspect of the control code.
He wanted to meet the software designer, pat him on the back for the speed and efficiency of the code, and then strangle him for the complexity of the same code. By the end of the third day since he'd last disassembled Six-six-four, he was in desperate need of a break. It was time to bring his friend back and see if she'd require a reset before she'd be his friend.
Tiago cleaned up the work area first. He was trying to regain his social habits and this seemed like a good time to put that into practice. When everything was tidied up, he sat on the steps in the open doorway of the shuttle. He could easily talk to both ships from where he was.
"RS3. Shutdown the maker unit. Interrogative. Instantiate Audra."
He watched as she was built, layer by layer, in a standing position. When the process was done, she glared at him. While resetting her was not off the table, it was harder to think about doing so when she was in the room. He decided to try another way.
"I'm sorry, Audra. I shouldn't have yelled at you and I shouldn't have disassembled you."
"Again," she added.
"I shouldn't have disassembled you again," he agreed.
Her emotions were not pre-programmed guile this time. He was stable, or at least seemed so. That left her in social mode. Six-six-four looked past him, peering into the shuttle. It did not improve her mood.
"I thought we were going to figure that out together," she said.
"We are. I still don't have it working."
That softened her a little. He did need her. He'd apologized and admitted he needed her help. For a sim, especially one that had been modified as she was, being useful triggered all sorts of positive feedback loops. She was still angry. Being ignored was offensive to her core personality. He hadn't talked to her once while her body was gone.
"So, I help you and you disassemble me again?" she asked.
"I promised I wouldn't."
He wanted the words back as soon as he said them.
"Not my place to tell you who you can disassemble. I'm just a sim. I'm not supposed to have a body anyway. That was your idea," Audra said.
Tiago was taken aback, and not just because he felt awful for treating her like this. He was starting to realize how many emotions she had seemed to master recently. He knew perhaps seventy percent of her code. She shouldn't hold that many surprises.
"I said I'm sorry. Now I'm also sorry for lying to you and… and for being insensitive just now. I'll do better. I'll be better to you," Tiago said.
"Yes, master. What help do you require of the genie of the ship, master," she said flatly.