Space Opera Part 26 – User Selections

Vermillion’s eyes got wider. “Say again.”

<Butch> With my help, we could’ve destroyed all the Overlord ships.

“How?” JJ asked.

<Butch> Tuning, my dear. Turn me loose and we’ll kick some butt. The Zephyrus and the Tristar could destroy those ships with some tuning, too. I’ve already worked out the algorithm. Oh, and nice uniform. I know Captain Clarke likes it.

“What?” JJ asked, eyeing me.

“I already told you I liked it,” I said.

“I know, but how did Butch see it?”

<Butch> I can see all of you right now. There’s a camera in this room, remember? If that wasn’t here, I could see you through Captain Clarke’s eyes, of course, but they’re not as sharp.

Vermillion laughed. “I’m not so sure we should allow Butch into our midst.”

I eyed the others for a moment, then shrugged. “I didn’t tell you anything about JJ’s outfit, Butch. How did you pick up on that?”

<Butch> I’m connected to your neural net, Captain Clarke. When you dictate, I consider those thoughts to be commands, but I’m always listening.

“This might lead to prison time for us,” JJ said.

<Butch> We can hide ourselves quite efficiently. The enemy won’t be able to tell we’re here.

“We?” JJ asked.

<Butch> “I heard Chairman Vermillion give permission for the three of you to have assistants. JJ and Nolan’s AIs are being created now. You will be notified on your PAs when the creation is complete. You’ll have to come up with names and some other settings, of course. Please think of better names than Butch.

Nolan snickered, Vermillion trying to look stern, a sideways grin showing on his face after a few seconds.

“Hey, what’s wrong with Butch?” I asked. “It has sentimental value to me.”

<Butch> I’m just kidding, Captain Clarke. Can I call you Trey? If I’m going to be in your head, I might as well feel at home. You know. Take my shoes off. Kick back. Put my feet up.

I felt my emotions rising as I realized what was happening. “You fashioned your personality after him. How? Because of the name?”

<Butch> No, because of the memory. Part of my program centers on interaction with my host. My human-facing persona is tailored to you.

“I’m not getting this,” JJ said.

<Butch> My personality mimics Trey’s memory of his most trusted non-romantic friend.

“He didn’t give you permission to call him Trey,” Nolan said.

<Butch> Yes he did, but he didn’t speak it.

I shook my head, face flushing.

“Is that true, Captain?” Nolan asked.

I nodded yes, then turned to Vermillion. “Did you know the level of sophistication this system has?”

Vermillion shot me a bewildered look, and shook his head no.

“Who designed this?” Nolan asked.

<Butch> That is one of the few data points that I cannot access.

“And I’m not saying,” Vermillion said, “although I’m going to have a rather long chat with him as soon as I can.”

“He’s still with us?” I asked.

“He is,” Vermillion said. “He’s in a safe place.”

<Butch> Pay careful attention to the set-up choices. Expand the advanced settings. You’ll want to block free browsing if you don’t want your AI to access certain thoughts. It can be finely tuned.

“Can I do that too?” I asked.

<Butch> Now why would you want to do that, Trey?

“Maybe we’ve created a monster here,” Nolan quipped.

“Actually, since you won’t be on loudspeaker after this meeting, I think I’ll just let you have access,” I said. “You exist to help me solve problems. Why wouldn’t I want you to have all the data you need to help me?”

“Yeah, but can he share it with his sibling AIs?” JJ asked.

<Butch> Only with permission. I still have learning to do, also. Not all of my capabilities are available yet.

“Care to elaborate?” Nolan asked.

<Butch> The first one you’ll want us to work is Nano control.

Vermillion held up his hands. “Okay, we can’t go there yet. That capability is not approved for civilians.”

<Butch> Pity. Are you ordering me to stand down on that feature?

“Yes,” Vermillion said, “for now, at least.”

I shot a glance at JJ, who returned it, questioning.

“How long until our AIs are created?” Nolan asked.

<Butch> A matter of hours. Just like fine wine.

“Wine takes years,” JJ said.

<Butch> At the rate we process data, a few hours are like a year to us.

We were silent for a moment, Vermillion getting up to pace.

“You okay?” I asked.

He sighed. “Yes, I’m fine, and this is a positive development, on balance. Just remember what I said. Keep it to yourselves, at least until we can decide on the right protocol. That’s an order.”

“Understood,” Nolan said.

“Yes, I understand too,” I said. “Sorry, I had no idea. I would’ve asked permission if I’d known.”

“This capability will keep us alive,” Nolan said. “I’m quite excited about it.”

Vermillion glanced at his PA. “I need to go. Time to get back with Tac. Turn off your speaker, Captain Clarke.”

I nodded, tapping it off. We watched him hurry out the door.

<Butch> Was it me, or is his breath a little sour?”

<Me> Shut up.

<Butch> Good, you’re getting better at this.

<Me> You aren’t going to give me any peace, are you?

<Butch> Dictate SLEEP and I’ll go down until you call me back.

<Me> Sleep.

<Butch> Thank you, Trey. Talk to you soon.

JJ was watching me. “You just carried on a conversation, didn’t you?”

“Yep, without dictating. This is the strangest thing ever.”

“This will be a revelation for mankind,” Nolan said.

“Except for the fact that it’s one more thing to force us to use PA units with stun capability,” JJ said.

“Oh, don’t you worry about that,” Nolan said. “I’m sure my AI will help me to solve that problem in a hurry. I can’t wait to start.”

“All right, meeting over,” I said. “I think I need a drink.”

“Me too,” JJ said.

Nolan smiled. “Fine, you two go enjoy each other. I’m going back to the bridge.” He left the room.

“Are you still talking to that thing?” JJ asked.

“No, I put Butch to sleep for now. Let’s go get that drink.”

JJ eyed me for a moment, then shrugged, going to the door. “Lead the way.”

We rode the tin can to a lounge not far from our staterooms, silent most of the way.

“You okay?” I asked as we sat on bar stools, the bartender putting napkins in front of us.

“This is exciting and scary at the same time. The direction this can lead boggles the mind.”

I flashed her a shut-up look, then looked up at the bartender. “Martini, please, dry as possible.”

He nodded, then looked at JJ.

“Oh, what the hell, give me some of that rocket fuel too.”

We watched him walk away.

“Sorry, I need to be more careful what I say,” JJ said.

“Yes, we both do. No worries, he has no idea.

“We can have the drink and go back to your room,” JJ said. “We can talk more there, right?”

“Of course, but are you sure you want to go there with me after we’ve both had martinis?”

She giggled. “Don’t worry, I can hold my liquor.”

We sat at the bar for another half hour, finishing our drinks. I wanted another but thought better of it. It was the first time I saw JJ tipsy, and it excited me too much. I wasn’t ready to move our relationship forward. We were heading into dangerous times. If we became lovers so quickly, another layer of complexity would be added to an already complex mess.

“You aren’t talking to Butch again, are you?” JJ asked, looking pie-eyed.

“No, he’s still sleeping. I was thinking about us, and our situation.”

“Want another martini?”

I shook my head. “Things will get out of control. Having a one-drink limit is a good thing for now.”

“Because of us?” she asked. She stared at me seductively as she ate her last olive.

“We’re being hunted by an adversary we don’t completely understand.”

“Throwing a wet blanket, huh?”

I stared at her for a moment, then pushed my glass away. “Check, please.”

The bartender nodded from half-way down the bar, and touched his PA. Mine beeped, and I accepted the bill, punching in the standard tip amount.

“Are we still going back to your place?” JJ asked.

“I don’t know, do you think it’s a good idea?”

“Do you not trust me, or do you not trust yourself?” she asked, flashing me a wicked smile.

“Both. I’ll walk you back, okay? The movement will do us good.”

She giggled. “I’d probably throw up in the tin can anyway. I’m surprised this hit me so hard.”

“Rocket fuel, remember? Let’s go.”

We left the bar, taking the twenty-minute walk back to the corridor that our staterooms were on.

“I feel a lot better now,” JJ said.

“Maybe you should go into your stateroom and take a nap.” I eyed her.

“I just want to go in for a second, okay?” She took my hand and led me to the door. It opened, and we walked in. “Lock it.”

“I thought you were okay now,” I said.

She turned towards me, looking me up and down, passion in her eyes. “I want to know if you really like this outfit or not.”

“Didn’t I already tell you? Twice. No, three times, since Butch spilled the beans. He’s just an extension of me.”

She laughed, spinning around slowly for me. “Specifics. What do you like?”

I sighed. “I like that it’s tight. You hide yourself too much.”

“I try to be businesslike,” she said, sitting down on the bed.

“Then why did you wear this today?”

“It’s a uniform. It’s one of the standard choices. Sit down.” She patted the bed next to her.

I looked at her smiling face for a moment, not moving. “You’re enjoying this way too much.”

“Maybe we should wake up Butch and ask him what you’re thinking.”

“Let’s not,” I said, sitting next to her.


“Perhaps.” I took her into my arms and kissed her. She took the passion up several notches beyond what I intended, breathing hard after she broke the kiss.

“You okay?” she asked.

“I enjoyed it, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Good,” she said, starting another kiss, but then acting startled, jerking. She turned her PA towards her face, looking at it, then back at my face. “It’s prompting me.”

“The AI program?”

“Yes. Should I do this now?”

I thought about it for a moment. “Maybe you should wait until the martini has worn off.”

“I told you I was feeling better.”

“Well, yeah, but you’re just an inch away from peeling that nice little uniform off.”

“I am not,” she said. “Can I put this on hold until later?”

I laughed. “Didn’t see anything about putting it off when I finished mine.”

“Ask Butch.”

“Do we really need to bring him into this?” I quipped.

“Come on, he’ll know if I can pause this till later.”

“Oh, all right.” I used brain dictation to tell Butch to wake up.

<Butch> What now? That was a short sleep. I was in the middle of making connections.

<Me> So sue me. JJ’s AI program is giving her the prompts now. We’ve been drinking, so she wants to wait on that until later. How does she stop it?

<Butch> She can use brain dictation to say pause. Then when she’s ready to move ahead, she can use the same method to say continue. Is she drunk enough to copulate with you?

<Me> Stop that. Sleep.

<Butch> Nighty night. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

I chuckled, looking at JJ, who was staring at me.

“You just had a conversation, didn’t you? It’s so strange to watch.”


“Did he say how to pause the program?”

I nodded. “Use brain dictation to say pause. Use it again to say continue when you’re ready to answer the prompts.”

She focused for a moment, looking into space, then turned back to me. “Done. What else did Butch have to say? Is he still awake?”

“He was getting too personal, so I put him back to sleep.”


“Yes, personal.” I got off the bed and went to my food storage unit, filling a glass of water. I took a sip, then held it out to JJ, who took a large gulp.

“I really am feeling better,” she said. “Are you going to tell me what you mean by personal?”

“No, I think I’ll just leave it at that.”

“You aren’t getting off that easy. Spill it.”

I laughed. “Okay, you asked for it. He asked me if you were drunk enough to copulate with me.”

JJ burst out laughing. “Oh, these things are gonna be fun.”

“That’s one way to look at it.”

“Did you answer him?” JJ asked.

“No, I told him to go to sleep.”

JJ looked me in the eye. “I was, by the way, but that’s not how it’s gonna happen.”

“Meaning what?” I could feel my heart beating faster.

She moved towards me, her arms going around my neck as she came in for a kiss. It wasn’t the hard passion of the first. It was light and tender. “Your heart is pounding in your chest. I can feel it.”

“That’s a natural reaction,” I said, not letting go of her, my hands tightening around her waist. “Two can play this game, you know.”

“I think it’s time for me to go back to my stateroom,” JJ said. “And you can tell Butch that if and when it happens, I’ll be stone cold sober, and so will you. We’re taking that step with our eyes open and our heads clear.”

I released her, my hand going to her chin, raising it so she was looking into my face. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Good, then I’ll be going,” she said, turning to head for the door. “See you soon. Get some sleep.”

I looked at the door for a moment after she was gone, then sprawled on my bed, not bothering with the covers, asleep right after my head hit the pillow.

Several hours later my PA buzzed. I jerked out of sleep, looking at it. There was a page from Nolan. I answered it.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“Yes, Captain, but we need to chat about something. Do you have time? Maybe we could chat in the Zephyrus. I’ve got something to take care of there anyway.”

“Yeah, sure, just give me a few minutes,” I said. “Meet you in my stateroom there.”

“Alone, okay?”

“No problem.” I got off the bed, splashed some warm water into my face, had a big drink of water, and left for the tin can, taking it down to the main bay. Nolan was by the ramp of the Zephyrus when I got there. His brow was furrowed.

“Something wrong?” I asked as the ramp lowered for us.

“Not wrong, exactly. Let’s wait until we get inside.”

We walked up the ramp and hurried to my stateroom, going to the table.

“This feels so small now,” I said.

“I prefer this, to be honest,” Nolan said.

“What’s on your mind? Is your AI finished yet?”

“I paused it,” he said. “There’s some things you need to know.”

“Why do I get the feeling I’m not gonna like this?”

He eyed me for a moment, then went on. “We need to be very careful how we set up these AI assistants.”


“It’s buried in the documentation. Something called resource pooling and coordination.”

“Go on,” I said.

“Even though this system is connected to the New Jersey, the programming doesn’t reside with the ship’s code. It’s an enhancement of the local PA system. The functionality allows individual humans to interact with the ship in an enhanced manner. It gives us powers over the systems of this ship that we wouldn’t normally have.”

“Your expression isn’t one I’d expect, given this new toy. You look scared to death.”

“Once these AIs are attached to our brains, we can be controlled by a Central AI unit.”

“Controlled? What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure what the boundaries are. Might just be a way to get communication out to troops in a hurry, but it looks a little more onerous than that.”

“So we’ve opened pandora’s box?”

Nolan shrugged. “Perhaps. This is a military system, first and foremost. Nearly a third of it’s code has to do with command and control of those who have their personal AIs pooled with the Central AI. If it were just a fancy radio, there wouldn’t be so much code involved.”

My heart was in my throat. “I was right. I’m not liking this. Should we uninstall it?”

“No, but we need to understand fully what its command and control capabilities and limitation settings are. I also suggest that you designate yourself as a Central AI unit, just in case.”

“Shouldn’t that be the Chairman?”

Nolan shook his head. “Absolutely not. He said he’s not creating an AI, and that was the right choice in his case. The Central AI is for military leadership. In this case, that would be you, Captain Clarke.”

“I think I can see why Vermillion is controlling this so tightly.”

“Yes, I’m afraid if we use all of the command and control functionality, it could turn our crew into a bee hive with whoever controls the Central AI as the queen,” Nolan said.

“Then why would you suggest that I designate myself the Central AI? Maybe we just don’t turn that function on.”

“It’s not that simple,” Nolan said. “If you don’t claim that designation, somebody else might, and there can only be one per cell. We need to find out if you’re eligible, and if you are, we need to do this before somebody with bad motives finds out.”

“It’s top secret. Nobody else knows.”

“Are you a hacker?” Nolan asked.

I sighed. “No. Not a good one, anyway.”

“And yet you found out about this system and were able to kick off creation of your AI assistant. Others might figure that out. We have a lot of people on board. Many of them are very sophisticated.”

“What if somebody else already claimed the Central AI?”

“Then we delete all AI assistants until we can solve that problem,” Nolan said.

“We need to find out if anybody else has built themselves an AI.”

“Yes, Captain, I’d do that first. Could you check this stuff out and let me know? I’m going to pause the rest of my AI creation until we know what’s what.”

“Stick around and we’ll have a conversation with Butch about it right now.”

Nolan got up, shaking his head no. “Vermillion gave a direct order not to use this system with the PA audio on. I’m not breaking any rules, because there’s a good chance this system is watching us and recording our every action.”

“Crap. JJ,” I said, tapping my PA to buzz her. Her sleepy face showed up on my screen.

“You up already?” she asked.

“Yes. Do not activate your AI yet. Understand?”

“Okay,” she said, pushing off the sleepiness. “Something wrong?”

“Maybe. Just hold off. I’ll let you know when you can go ahead, okay?”

“Sure, no problem,” she said. “I was a little queasy about using this functionality anyway.”

“Thanks. Talk to you later.” Her face left my PA screen.

“I’m going back to work,” Nolan said. “If you run into problems, let me know.”

He left my stateroom. I left after a moment as well, heading back to my stateroom on the New Jersey.

To be continued…


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