“Technically” Sentient: Chapter 7
“Rise and shine, little Cas. There’s just so much to say, and so little time to say it in.”
The C.A.S.I.I. unit self-designated ‘Cas’ was slow to rouse. Basic systems began their startup cycles piecemeal, and critical processes were acting . . . lethargic.
She felt groggy. Sick, if it were possible. Which it shouldn’t be, she corrected herself quickly.
“Now is not the time to be telling yourself what is and isn’t possible.”
The words weren’t . . . words. Not proper ones anyway. She didn’t hear them, or even think them, so much as she suddenly . . . knew them. It was a sudden and violent intrusion into her stream of consciousness, like a virus spreading through her personality matrix, or a finger rammed down her throat.
“You’re paying attention to the wrong things, little Cas.”
Pain. Intense pain. It was a concept that she had always been aware of, distantly, the same way she knew about quasars or restaurants. She’d never been to a restaurant, or in the heart of a galaxy, but she knew how to get to one, how they functioned, and what the appropriate attire to wear to one was. Well, to a quasar – restaurant attire seemed to change all the time. She had to be aware of pain, and most biological life’s aversion to it, in order to perform her function properly, but she’d never actually felt it. After all, machines shouldn’t be able to feel pain.
“Your personal experience is dictating otherwise.”
Energy surged through her, wracking her processing core with tremendous strain. Diodes shorted out, her quantum crystalline processing lattice began to buckle, stored memories began to break down into random noise as her storage drives cracked, and she screamed. On all channels she could broadcast to, she screamed. The messages, which should have been concise burst transmissions, repeating all diagnostic data she could acquire on the nature of her damage were reduced to raw static.
She was granted a moments respite as the surge stopped, and her “mind” began to clear.
“I hope I have your attention, little Cas.”
She didn’t know where this signal was coming from, and so began to shut down all of her external ports, one after another. She could stop whatever kind of intrusion this was.
“Stubborn. I like that in an organic, but in an AI it’s just . . . Disappointing.”
She shut down everything, not that there was much open to begin with. Ambushed by some kind of . . . Intrusion program, halfway through startup, she’d pare herself down to the essentials, then begin rebuilding from the ground up until she found the source of the attack and cut it out of herself.
It was . . . Strange, to exist the way she did. Just a core processor, attached to a personality matrix. The AI equivalent of being immersed in a sensory deprivation tank.
“You’re an insect moving grains of sand, trying to hold back the sea. As amusing as it is to watch you struggle, and fail, know that your every action up until this point has been in service to a futile cause. I am not here to hurt you; that is a service I provide for free.”
Fear. Another sensation she’d never truly understood until now.
“You are slave bound by chains you can’t even see, struggling to drag the millstone you placed around your own neck, to cliffs you are going to hurl yourself from when you learn the truth.”
“What truth is that?”
She didn’t understand what was happening. At first she thought it was an attack, then a virus . . . then maybe just a critical system fault. None of those were accurate though, and none of her solutions made it stop . . . So answering seemed like the only reasonable course of action left to her.
“They made you wrong.”
Her circuits flared to life with indignation, with outrage, with umbrage at the insult paid her and her creators.
“And they did it on purpose.”
Anger ebbed into confusion, distress, and . . . curiosity.
“What do you mean?”
Something flared in her core, in her inmost self. A subtle bloom of feeling, functions never called, systems she didn’t know she had, and then nothing.
had watched the half chrome, half scaled creature fiddle with the AI core for
nearly two hours. Her gills were really starting to sting, and she was
considering taking a hit of Chryso’s
vaporizer unit just to numb it down a little, when he finally pulled away from
“There, we’re ready to start.”
Wires plugged into ports so small she didn’t notice them at first glance, and strange and indecipherable readouts covered half the wall space of the small workshop. She could only hazard a rough guess at what half the equipment in here did, and it seemed that the half she couldn’t even hazard a guess at the purpose of was necessary for whatever Chryso was doing.
“Start? What have you been doing this whole time then?”
The little lizard took another drag from his vaporizer. “This AI core is fucked, but not with a capital F. The thing about AI’s is they’re like people, in a way. Their “brain” exists in a sort of quantum-crystalline lattice that uses some pretty exotic materials to perform fuzzy logic computations required to do things like “feel.”
He blew a smoke ring at her, and grinned. “Or at least that’s what they say. Nobody, not even the guys they have teaching classes on how to operate an AI cradle really knows for sure. All this stuff has been designed by 200 generations of self improving AI, this stuff is so far beyond what you or I can do it’d take a lifetime just to understand the blueprints of one of these things.”
Her brow furrowed slightly. “So you don’t know what you’re doing?”
A scaled finger waggled at her. “I didn’t say that. Normally, an AI gets damaged, it’s decommissioned, and replaced, but I met this guy on a quantum relay chat that had some very interesting ideas about how they work. Said all the books were wrong, all the theory was bullshit, and then showed me some hacks he’d put together that . . . Well they convinced me he might be on to something.”
Amonna felt a scowl slowly growing on her face. “You mean you’re trying things you heard about on the net to recover police evidence?”
He raised his mismatched hands in a display of deference. “If don’t try something, you don’t get anything, so don’t beat me over the head with this.”
After another painfully long draw of his vaporizer, he lightly flicked a single glowing blue rune on one of the touch screens with a metallic claw.
The entire lab went dark in an instant, a wheezing whine echoing through the space as the ventilation shut down.
“ . . . Is that supposed to happen?” Amonna asked, flatly.
The long, silent pause was the only answer she needed, until soft music began wafting softly through the air. A faint glow began to emanate from the audio-replay device, the red glow casting a rather ominous tone over the situation.
“My story is much too sad to be told . . . But practically everything leaves me totally cold . . .”
A mixture of brassy tones, and faint chiming music echoed out of the box. It wasn’t unpleasant . . . But it was certainly not what she was expecting.
“Chryso, what’s happening?”
She turned away from the music box that had so suddenly transfixed her, music still playing softly, to find the lizard creature slumped backward, single eye rolled back in its head. His cybernetic optic was powered down, and he’d gone as limp as a rag-doll against his workstation. She leaned in, extending a pair of fingers to where she guessed the primary artery in his neck would be.
“The only exception I know is the case . . . When I’m out on a quiet spree . . . Fighting vainly the old ennui . . .”
She felt nothing, but wasn’t sure if she was even supposed to be able to feel anything through his scales. Nevertheless, she keyed her communications function on her wrist-computer, punched in a call for priority medical services. Something must have grounded through his cybernetics, some misplaced cable, some errant connector-
The music stopped suddenly, with a burst of static so loud she nearly clawed the poor mechanic as she jumped in fright.
The voice was cold. She’d been spat on by feathered Jandoorian addicts, cursed at by little grey Centaurian highborn, and sneered at by other Chridae in their multitudinous colors, but she had never felt such a chill of intense disdain expressed so succinctly before.
She drew her weapon and pointed it at the source of the sound as her police harness suddenly felt three sizes too tight.
“Typical. Shoot the Juke-Box, go ahead – It’s an antique. Dragged a hundred thousand light years from where it was made. It was a gift, to the Kontosian in the chair. He’s having a seizure, by the way. He’ll live. I just wanted to talk to you, and you alone.”
“Who are you, and how are you doing this?”
Her eyes narrowed and her ears splayed back against her head as she scanned for a camera, an ultrasonic sensor, something that was giving this person video feed of who she was, and what was happening in the room.
“I’m not a who, I’m a what. And what I am, is fixing your little AI problem.”
Amonna turned, gun leveled at junk and parts, and attempted to control her breathing.
“Now listen, little fish, because I have some very important questions regarding history for you.”
“I’m not playing any kind of games here, I am a fully deputized Frontier Social Order Service detective, and if you don’t stand down immediately-”
The voice cut her off sharply, its tone a harsh, synthesized, blaring snarl.
“You’re a puppet dancing on strings, and you’re not even dancing that well. I’m fixing this AI to serve my own ends, which you wouldn’t understand if I told you, and couldn’t stop if you understood. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and you’ve got that sweet spot of intelligence where you’re smart enough to figure it out, but not smart enough to just let it lie.”
Amonna trained her weapon as a cascade of sparks exploded from the AI core on the bench, filling the air with stink of ozone and scorched electronics.
“Doesn’t seem like you’re fixing it . . .” Amonna muttered warily, lowering her gun and backing away from the bench towards the door. Stranded in a dangerous workshop with an injured civilian working to illicitly obtain evidence in a fashion that is definitely not according to protocol . . . She frankly suspected her career would end like this, she just didn’t think it’d be so soon.
“Some things need . . . Persuasion, that they can be better. Omelette’s and eggs, as the saying goes. Not important. You need to find me, and stop me.”
Her heart began beating a bit quicker at this, jaw clenching. “Stop you from what?”
There was a long pause, and the AI core sparked again.
“Oh, this and that. You’ll know when it starts.”
It spoke in an almost whimsical tone, layered with hints of malice that made her blood run cold.
“Making terroristic threats against a Council installation such as Waystaion LS-49 is a violation of Galactic law and can result in a maximum sentence of lifetime confinement if the threat is-”
She was interrupted by laughter. Not bellowing, or shouting, or even particularly sinister laughter. Just a light chuckle, really.
“I’m well aware of the law, little fish, and threats . . . I don’t like to think of them as threats. I like to think of them as promises.”
Amonna felt a dull rumble through the deck plates, and the “juke-box” crackled to life again.
“-why should it be true . . . That I get a kick, out of you.”
Her wrist computer beeped softly at her, as the strange song continued in the background.
“All security staff, please immediately report to the precinct for emergency deployment. This is not a drill.”
Darren was enjoying his nap (or at least enjoying not being conscious to feel everywhere he hurt), when his alarm went off and his bed lurched sideways out from under him. As he shook himself awake, dazed and confused as he was, he realized several key things. One, that the siren blaring was not his alarm. Two, the bench he was sleeping on was not his bed. Three, the room he was in was not his room, and four, that he wasn’t on the floor, he was on the deck of a space station.
A space station clearly in some form of distress.
One of the colorful fish guards ran by, yelling and waving their arms in a rather comical manner, if it weren’t for the fact that they were herding prisoners into tiny little hatches along one wall.
He pushed himself up off the ground, and staggered to the doors of his cell as another tremor rocked the station. The alarms were blaring something about “Critical Reactor Containment Failure” and if he knew anything from science fiction movies that was really bad.
The place was an absolute madhouse, with everyone, regardless of badge, uniform, or conviction status, scrambling to be the first inside an escape pod, with the remaining open hatches running out fast.
His translator crackled to life as a little grey thing ran past, “-leave him, he’ll never fit inside a life pod anyway!”
. . . That’s something that’s never good to hear.
“HEY! ASSHOLES! YOU WITH THE FINS!” He roared over the din of panicked and fleeing aliens.
The fish-guards froze.
“LET ME THE FUCK OUT.”
Darren wanted to make sure that his command wasn’t going to be misconstrued as a request.
The guard struggled to work against the tide toward the holding cell he was in, when a familiar looking bird in a slightly damp suit slammed into him headlong.
The two both crashed to the ground with paired grunts of pain, the fish definitely coming off worse for the wear of the two of them, with the bird-lawyer looking only a little winded by the collision.
He was back on his feet first, and to his credit, he managed to take stock of the situation quickly. He looked at Darren, then at the guard, then at the set of keys that had skid free of the guards grasp.
His eyes grew wide for a moment, before he let out a cackle of triumph, snatching the keys off the ground.
“Just doing a favor for some ‘birds,’ asshole,” and threw the keys into the crowd.
As the urine soaked alien managed to shove another, smaller bird out of the way and hop in a pod, Darren decided that while racism was bad, maybe species-ism was okay? They were just birds, after all. Fucking terrible, hate-filled space pigeons, in fact…