In Gravitas Veritas
“Wake up Bill” A sultry voice purred. Bill Simmons shifted in his bed and pulled the sheet over his head. The voice continued “It’s time to get up…Ahh I see you are already…up!” That got Bill’s attention; he took a quick look down and with a flustered scrabble covered himself up. Looking up he saw an attractive brunette on the ceiling’s softscreen. “No need to hide from me tiger. Why don’t we go hook up the VR suite and put that to good use?” Bill thought for a minute that he was still asleep “Steve? Is that you?” “You call me Stevie honey” the woman replied “I think you can get to like the new me. I know exactly what you want. I can be your ideal woman”
Bill did not like the way this was going. “Err Steve, I mean Stevie. You make a tempting offer but you know I can’t make decisions so early in the morning. Why don’t we run the morning checks and then we can talk over breakfast?”
Stevie looked almost a little abashed at the dismissal but quickly cheered up “Ok; I’ll make your favourite, pancakes just how you like them. This is going to be great” The screen shut down and Bill took the added precaution of switching off the cameras in his room. He sat on his bed contemplating the events that just transpired. “This can’t be good!” he said to himself and quickly got dressed.
Steve or now ‘Stevie’ was the AI of the interstellar freighter Steven Hawking who along with Bill were custodians of whatever had to be shipped between the stars. They were on a seeding run to drop Von Neumann machines on some virgin rock deemed suitable for development. It was about half way on the journey. They were cruising at just short of the speed of light; they would arrive at their destination in a year and a half ship time or another eighty odd years real time. Bill and Steve had double teamed on five such journeys already and they hadn’t failed each other yet, for Bill this development was a concern.
When Bill came into the bridge Stevie was waiting for him “I would say that everything is looking great so why can’t we get this over with real quick and have our talk?” Bill tried to be diplomatic “You know the rules. We have to check everything first” Stevie started to get agitated “What is it with you and work? I bet it is because you are not interested in me. Yeah! You still pine for that floozy you left on Eponia! Well Sonny Jim she has been a long time cooking since you left! Want a picture?” On the screen the avatar was replaced by a photo taken from Bills last leave; but while the original showed a gorgeous blond on his arm she had been replaced by an old but vaguely familiar woman. Bill was visibly upset by the image. Time dilation was accepted in his profession but to see the effect on those he cared about, even for a short while was never easy for him. The now disembodied voice continued her assault “You think she looks bad now? Wait until we get back!ArbourCitycan be a liberal as they come but I think necrophilia still gets frowned upon!”
“Enough!” shouted Bill; he was trying to concentrate on running his checks. “Sorry Bill, It’s, It’s; I only want to please you” Bill looked up “You can please me by shutting the hell up and going back to your old self.” The woman acknowledged with a sheepish bow of the head and the screen switched to a youngish man with a short head of blonde hair, the “old” Steve. Bill let a smile come for his old friend that was replied with a cheesy grin from the screen. Feeling a little better Bill got back to work.
The AI of a standard single human crew freighter was not in direct control of the ships systems. They, like the human crewmember had to go through a network of less powerful computers to access the controls of the ship, though they could do this at a vastly faster rate than your regular human. This was designed to promote an illusion of equality between man and machine and as the human was nominally in charge of the spacecraft it also provided a barrier from the AI assuming complete control of the craft in some sort of “Frankenstein” scenario. It was through one of the secondary systems that Bill inspected the ship.
All the standard technical parameters were within limits. Navigation checked out too, they were exactly where they were supposed to be. Bill then turned to the computer systems. The control computers didn’t give him any trouble but he ran an analysis anyway which they passed with flying colours. Bill wasn’t expecting anything wrong as a failure in those systems would have been more apparent and the old style hard-core electronics were probably the toughest thing in the ship.
It was then that Bill switched to the more delicate quantum computer that housed the AI. At this Steve who had been waiting patiently through it all piped up “There is no need to check me Bill. I feel fine; in fact better than normal!” Bill wished he could take Steve’s word for it but couldn’t. The interface ran the standard tests of the output from the numerous superimposed states housed in a matrix of microscopic drops of metal bathed in liquid helium. All through the achingly slow process Steve kept on protesting its rude health.
The results shocked Bill. Steve’s “Brain” was in a state of anarchy. A great deal of the negative feedbacks that acted to keep it in check where absent. Curiously; instead of being in overdrive it was still acting sluggish. If Bill didn’t know better he would have thought that Steve was drunk. Steve was seeing this too “that can’t be me; I feel great, free!” “Your inhibitions are gone, of course you do. I’m sorry Steve but I have to block your control of the ship. You can’t be responsible in this state.” Steve went on the offensive “What do you mean this state? The amount of times that you have come here reeking of drink and did I say anything? No! Not that it is easy to tell the difference in smells from you primates always out clogging the filters with your stench. I could never figure out what crime you committed in a previous life to be fitted in so unpleasant a body.”
Bill had stopped listening to the rant and instead concentrated on what could have caused such a specific malfunction. Quantum processors were extremely sensitive; everybody knew that, that was why AI’s alone didn’t run starships. But most interactions with the outside tended to simply destroy the processors not screw around with them a bit like here. Most, but not all! Bill called up the ships communications array. A telescope kept a keen eye on a laser signal that was beamed from Eponia. Bill had a look at the raw feed; a regular pulse in the near infrared. He then converted the image to an energy profile, highlighting the peak and let it accumulate and there! It had doubled! Just slightly, but it was enough to tell Bill that something was going on in local space. The signal was shifting to and fro in wavelength as if space itself was being twisted around them. “Just as I thought it shows gravity waves! And they look big too, might even be in the nanometer scale”
Steve looked generally surprised “What are you talking about? There is no way that you would be able to spot gravity waves using the laser it has to be something else. You should just go back to sleep, I promise I will not try to get into your pants again, I am totally over you, your loss!”
But Bill was on a roll and there was no stopping him. You remember the prelaunch briefing, about potential hazards on route? We had to plot a course to just avoid an exclusion zone from a pair of pulsars. They were shown to be orbiting around each other” Steve was unimpressed “So they dance; good for them! You for one have two left feet. I would be a far better dancer than you, if I had a body. You should lend me your body! I promise I won’t break it!”
Bill decided that in its present condition it would be best to ignore it “As you should be aware; when two heavy objects like neutron stars are spinning fast around each other they generate great amounts of gravity waves. Gravity waves can’t be stopped by any form of shielding so when they get high enough it can have an effect on your processors, knocking you around like you have went one on one with a heavyweight champ.”
Steve was unimpressed “An interesting hypothesis Mr Simmons, your simian brain never ceases to amaze, yet I cannot abandon the idea that it is your mammalian secretions that have gummed up my works. Yet; here is the rub! You yourself have said that we were forewarned of this threat by our employers, they can’t be that cruel.”
Bill was ready for him “They only had the observations from a radio astronomer to base the limit on and you know that they used the smallest possible limit to calculate our course. If there was a large margin of error or a change in the amplitude of the orbit then there would be a difference in the size of the danger zone. It was more like incompetence than deliberate evil.”
“So another own goal from the team then; that figures! So what is it then Bill if that is your real name? Will I continue to get more awesome in your eyes or is this as good as it is going to get?”
Bill ran some rough calculations on his tablet “We are currently about 1.5 light-years from the pulsars that seems to be close enough to start having an effect on your systems. At out present course we will be just under a light-year away at our closest approach.”
Steve was looking increasingly baffled “Which means?”
“This means these gravity waves are going to get a lot worse. Best case scenario; you get another day ship-time before you are completely wiped.”
Realisation dawned in the artificial constructs features “We can move out-of-the-way though can’t we? I remember how to do that!”
Bill shook his head “We are two close to move out-of-the-way any faster than we would if we stay on course, at best it would be cosmetic.”
“I like appearances! Make’s me look like I am doing something. I can go down fighting.”
Bill hesitatingly offered a solution “Steve there may be a way to save you. If I was to make a recording then we could keep you in storage until we get out of the danger zone.”
Steve was shocked by the suggestion; to an AI who had never been turned off deactivation was an anathema even if resurrection was a certainty. Steve got angry “What are you talking about Monkey Boy? Are you planning to kill me in order to cure me? Wipe me and replace me with some supplicant house slave?” The woman Stevie came back “You men are all the same; use them and lose them. You’re all pigs!”
But Bill had already made up his mind; he owed it to his friend to try. To break up and save an AI was a complicated procedure but theoretically he could do it. As gradually the components of its fragile mind were taken and simultaneously destroyed and saved in a memory crystal, Steve’s continual bombardment of insults and accompanying graphic images became gradually more course and simplistic. Gradually it was reduced to childlike “Poopie-head!” then nothing.
As Bill carefully placed his friend’s mind into safe storage he thought of the risk of what he was doing.
The Steve he had shut-down was definitely different then his old friend and colleague but not by much. Even at its worse it was only a slower and fouler mouthed version of the same old Steve. He was certain that in just over a week’s time, ship-time, Steve will be back as his old self unimpaired and jolly self and they will not mention this incident again. Yet still Bill could not help feeling uneasy about what had happened.
Steve was in fact made for him. At his training Bill had been placed with the fledgling AI so it could learn to be his perfect companion. They talked about everything, learned his likes, his tastes, his sexual preferences, what he bought even what he did when he was planet-side. In order to keep Bill sane through the years in space Steve had to become Bill’s soul-mate, as close to a double as it was possible for an AI to get.
Bill continued to mull over this as he slowly ate his dinner in the galley.
It took some pondering but finally; filled with resolve, Bill went to the stores, took every last drop of alcohol he could find and mixed it into the reaction mass for the next course correction.
‘Sometimes;’ thought Bill, ‘Life lessons can come in the strangest packages!’