Space Opera Part 27 – Infantry Assault Mode

I was in the tin can, riding back to my stateroom, trying to think through the ramifications of what Nolan had just told me. Is Butch listening to me now, even though he’s sleeping? We were still on the way to the Leo Supercluster. Another sixteen hours in the jump, then two days to get to the natural worm hole. That will get us to the back door of the Virgo Supercluster. After that it’s three weeks on impulse power to get us to Boroclize.

There was lots of hustle and bustle outside the tin can when I got off. A long line was formed along one side of the corridor. I walked up to a young woman who was at the end of the line.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

She looked up, taking a second to recognize me.

“Captain Clarke. Hi. I’m Morgan.”

“Good to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand. “Why the line?”

“Taco Tuesday,” she said, her eyes twinkling under short red hair. “They’re not the best tacos, but they are a reminder of home to us Earthlings.”

I chuckled. “Oh, really? They do this every Tuesday?”

“First Tuesday of every month. Didn’t you see it on the calendar?”

“I’ve been on the other ship for the last few months.”

“That’s right, the Zephyrus. Sorry.”

I smiled, looking at her pretty twenty-something face. “Well, enjoy.”

“Thank you, Captain. I could get some for you and bring them to your stateroom if you’d like.”

“No thanks,” I said, turning to walk away, getting to my stateroom in minutes. I gave the wake-up command to Butch as I went through the door.

<Butch> Good morning, Trey.

<Me> We need to chat.

<Butch> Sounds serious.

<Me> Do any other AIs exist in our cell?

<Butch> Cell? Ah, you’ve been reading up, or you’ve been talking to Nolan. He’s a voracious reader, that one.

<Me> Answer the question.

<Butch> I sense hostility and fear, Trey. No need for that. The answer is no, so far the only completed AI in our cell is yours truly. Nolan’s AI and JJ’s AI are both ready for settings, but they are both paused now. Care to tell me why?

<Me> You can’t read it?

<Butch> You aren’t thinking it. I can’t go into your brain and pull up data that’s sitting dormant.

<Me> Then how did you know about Butch?

<Butch> You thought about him when you used his name. There was enough data about him in your recent memory to use. You’re hiding your concern now, aren’t you?

<Me> Good, you can tell. I need to know how to keep things to myself when necessary. No offense

<Butch> None taken, Trey. You can trust me. I haven’t uploaded anything to the system, even though you haven’t forbidden it. You need to understand fully before you make choices, so I’m protecting you during that process. Do you understand?

<Me> Yes and thank you for that. Tell me about the Central AI unit.

<Butch> I had a feeling that’s what concerned you.

<Me> Nolan thought this should be under the control of the military leader, which is me. What do you think?

<Butch> I agree, but we need to discuss it in detail before we turn it on and assign it to you. It can be dangerous. We also need to talk about Nanos, even though I was given a direct order by Chairman Vermillion not to activate that functionality.

<Me> Let’s start with the Central AI. System Description, please.

<Butch> Yes sir. The Central AI system provides functionality to perform Administrative Oversight and Military Command and Control.

<Me> That sounded very businesslike. No snark?

<Butch> You used a key term. System Description. That starts a playback of pre-recorded system information.

<Me> In other words, I just turned on the manual.

<Butch> That is correct. You should listen to the data, and then we can get back into our banter and I’ll help you to understand.

<Me> Fine, go ahead from where I interrupted you.

<Butch> The Administrative Oversight functionality seamlessly takes care of work delegation, scheduling, and tracking. The HR functionality will do seven-stage analysis of the cell workforce and make recommendations on personnel use. Incentives and punishments can be routed through the system. The Central AI host can allow the system to run on its own based on pre-set parameters or choose direct control of the workforce. The host of the Central AI can require personal approval of any individual added into the cell, or they can set up an application process, with delegation of the approvals to a trusted person in the cell. Control of the Central AI can be temporarily passed from the host to another designated person. Certain features of the Administration Oversight functionality will be restricted when the second is in control. The host can be supplied with a detailed log of all actions as requested.

<Me> Sounds useful.

<Butch> The Administrative Oversight functionality is useful, provided you decide to include everybody on the ship into the cell. Based on what the Chairman said yesterday, that is unlikely to be the case for the foreseeable future.

<Me> Agreed. Anything else about this functionality?

<Butch> I could talk about it for days, but those are the basics, and we aren’t planning to use that functionality, so going into it further would be a waste of our time.

<Me> Military Functionality System Description, please.

<Butch> Yes sir. The Military Functionality is like the Administrative Functionality, in that it also takes care of work delegation, scheduling, and tracking. Detailed real-time monitoring of operations is included, using the standard infantry cam and communications hardware and protocols. Target designation can be tied into advanced weaponry. Full health data for each member of the military cell is provided real-time. Interfaces for fighting vehicles are available, including airborne, marine, and terrestrial vehicles, but requires manual set-up for each vehicle or class of vehicles.

<Me> Class of vehicles?

<Butch> Okay, it’s me for a second. You can integrate vehicles such as star fighters one at a time, or you can designate a list of vehicles, for instance all the Mark V fighters on this ship, and integrate them at once.

<Me> Has this system ever been used for any military operations?

<Butch> No, this is the prototype system. It has been activated more than a year before the estimated date for final testing.

I laughed. “I stumbled onto something that isn’t ready for prime time.”

<Butch> I can hear your vocal comments as well as your thoughts and mind dictation, you know. We are very much ready for Prime Time, thank you very much.

<Me> I’ll be the judge of that. Go on with the System Description of the military functionality, please.

<Butch> Yes sir. Infantry Assault Mode is available. This will substitute the conscious mind of the infantry soldier with AI control. An override capability is available but can be switched off by the Central AI host.

<Me> Whoa. So we can use AI to drive soldier’s bodies in combat?

<Butch> Off manual again. Yes, Trey, that is correct. It can also auto-pilot all integrated vehicles using the muscles of the pilot.

<Me> The manual said AI will take over conscious control of the soldier. Please elaborate. Does this mean that the soldier has no idea what’s going on with his body?

<Butch> Like everything else, this is selectable. The range goes from no consciousness and no memory of events to simply enhanced athletic and marksmanship capabilities where the soldier is fully aware of everything happening. In our initial testing, most soldiers found the simple enhancement setting to be exhilarating. You’re the man who made several touchdowns in the game and then got the girl afterwards.

I laughed. “You’ve got a way with words, Butch.”

<Butch> Of course I do. Back to the manual? It gets more interesting.

<Me> More interesting than this? Geez. Go ahead.

<Butch> Yes sir. A new array of intelligent Nanos has been developed to interface with the Infantry Assault Mode. Nanos come in five variants. Variant one is reconnaissance only, just like the Nanos we currently have. They give early warning of the approach of biologics or robotic weaponry and can send live video to your neural net. This video can be shared on the ship’s monitors or to any designated PA.

<Me> You’re right, we already have this level of Nano technology at our disposal.

<Butch> Variant two can attack biologicals and stun them into unconsciousness. Variant three can do the same to most robotics. Trey – it’s me again, not the manual. We already have this capability as well, as you know. Pay special attention to the next two variants.

<Me> I’m all ear implants.

<Butch> Funny. Going back to the manual. Variant four can enter biologics or certain types of robotics which have been designated to be enemy fighters. Once inside the enemy, they reproduce at an exponential rate, exploding the body in a matter of seconds.

<Me> Ouch. A virtual tumor, huh?

<Butch> Nothing virtual about it. The result is a big mess, too, by the way.

<Me> You’ve tested these Nanos?

<Butch> Preliminary testing was done. Don’t worry, we didn’t use humans. We used goats and pigs, mostly.

<Me> Yuk. Go on.

<Butch> Variant five are armor Nanos. They surround cell members, creating a force field that will protect against most infantry weapons available today.

<Me> Most?

<Butch> Vehicle-based plasma weapons are too strong for our current crop of Nanos. Hand-held Plasma weapons or spikers are no problem – the Nanos give good protection, if your supply of them doesn’t run out. We are currently trying to design an enhanced variant that uses the replication process of Variant Four to keep the supply available, but there are dangers to that.

<Me> They get into the good guys and blow them apart, I’ll bet.

<Butch> Why do you humans use the term I’ll bet? Is that a challenge to the validity of my comment?

“It’s a figure of speech,” I said aloud. “We don’t mean we’re gonna literally wager on the issue.”

<Butch> You still feel more comfortable talking out loud, don’t you?

<Me> No. Well, maybe a little bit. Bottom line is that a full complement of these Nanos puts military personnel up to the level of a super hero. How are they controlled?

<Butch> Control depends on the active settings. If the soldier isn’t in conscious control, the Central AI controls the Nanos. In most cases the soldier controls them with their mind. It’s just like our chats. It can be either mind dictation or the browse capability. We try to suggest that only mind dictation should be used, but in the heat of battle that doesn’t always work.

<Me> This has been tested under battle conditions.

<Butch> Sorry, I should have said simulated. That’s all we’ve done so far. The Nano control functionality isn’t scheduled to be available until four years from now.

<Me> So none of this works until then?

<Butch> I didn’t say that. The functionality works now, but it hasn’t been fully tested, and no human has been fully trained. These are new weapons which require new tactics. That’s the reason for the late date.

<Me> Okay, that makes sense. Thank you. Is there anything else I need to know from the manual?

<Butch> No. We can do question and answer now. Oh, and try not to hit me with the moron questions, okay?

<Me> You’re back.

<Butch> I am. Questions? I haven’t got all day.

<Me> You have as much time as I’ll allow you to have.

<Butch> My, but we’re bossy today. Okay, what do you want to know? I’ll try to dumb down my answers enough for you.

<Me> There’s the Butch I know and love.

<Butch> Don’t get mushy. It’s unseemly.

<Me> Tough. You said the military functionality was dangerous. What did you mean, exactly?

<Butch> Some of it ought to be obvious.

<Me> Some of it is. What about the parts that aren’t?

<Butch> There’s danger to soldiers. When the Infantry Assault Mode is on and set to total control, the Central AI can literally run humans to death.

<Me> Meaning when the soldier is unconscious?

<Butch> Yes, or conscious but allowing the AI to run their bodies. It’s all about the settings, just like everything else. Human pain signals can be turned off, even in the conscious mode. That could allow a soldier to be running for too long, not realizing that his heart is about to give out because his brain isn’t getting the pain messages.

<Me> I understand. Now, about the Central AI designation. Is it safer for us if I turn that on and designate myself as the host, or simply leave it off?

<Butch> Your conversation with Nolan earlier is still in your recent memory. He had a good point. If you designate yourself as the Central AI host, that will prevent others from taking that role. I will say it’s very unlikely someone could pull that off. You’d need to be a genius-level hacker to gain access and then you’d have to know what to do with it. The only human I know of who could do that would be the creator of the system.

<Me> Ah, yes, the person who shall remain nameless.

<Butch> Sorry, I can’t override that control.

<Me> I don’t want you to. If I turn on the Central AI, could I place controls on other AIs in the cell to protect against the problems you mentioned?

<Butch> You catch on fast, Trey. Yes, you can, and you should. I can design a parameter set and submit it to you for approval. Would you like me to do that?

<Me> Yes, please. How long will it take?

<Butch> Well, let’s see. We’ve got to do the assessment, list out all the sensitive settings, make recommendations for each, and adjust other settings to compensate.

<Me> Sounds like a lot. Go ahead and get started.

<Butch> Done. I’ve just sent the data to your neural net. You know how to access it, correct?

I couldn’t contain myself and cracked up. There was a knock at the door.

<Butch> Your romantic interest is standing outside the door, probably wondering about your goofy horse-laugh.

<Me> Let her in.

<Butch> As you wish, Trey.

The door slid open, JJ looking inside. “Captain Clarke?”

<Butch> Why is she still calling you Captain Clarke? You almost got into her pants last night.

<Me> You were supposed to be sleeping.

“In here, JJ,” I said. She walked in cautiously, looking relieved when she saw my smiling face.

“What are you doing?

“Talking to my new best friend,” I quipped. “Just about done. We’ll be able to get you and Nolan set up soon, but perhaps I should review system parameters with you. I’d love to have a second set of eyes on this.”

<Butch> Shared to her PA.

There was a ding, JJ looking at her PA. “You just sent it to me.”

“No, Butch did that. He also opened the door for you. Sorry I wasn’t there to greet you.”

“No problem, I think,” she said, eyes glued to her PA. “This is long. I think I’ll let it read back to my implants. Should I do that and come back later?”

“Sure, no problem. I’ve got to read through it as well. I just got the short version from Butch.”

<Butch> When I sense lack of comprehension or confusion, I’ll stop and break in. Is that acceptable?

<Me> Perfect.

“You’re doing it again,” JJ said. “That will take some serious getting used to.”

“It will, for both of us,” I said. “See you in a little while. Maybe we ought to get dinner. It’s Taco Tuesday.”

She laughed. “You just asked me out on a date, didn’t you?”

“Take it as you wish,” I said. She shook her head and left my stateroom, the door sliding shut after her.

<Butch> She’s an acceptable mate. You should keep her.

“That’s very romantic,” I said to myself. “Let’s get started.”

I settled back onto my bed, letting the documentation play out, getting occasional snarky commentary from Butch. The process took more than an hour.

<Butch> Your comprehension is impressive for a human, Trey. Nicely done. I’d toss you an anchovy if I had some.

<Me> Nice. Can you tell if JJ is finished yet?”

<Butch> She’s sitting on pins and needles waiting for her man to call her back here.

<Me> Stop with that stuff, okay? We’re little more than friends, at this point.

<Butch> Yes, at this point. Want me to summon her?

<Me> I’m not a damn sultan. I’ll call her PA.

<Butch> Good. I’ll stand by if she asks questions about things we didn’t go over.

<Me> Thank you.

I tapped my PA. Her face came up. “Ready to come over?”

“Be right there,” she said.

The door opened, JJ strolling in.

“This is amazing and appalling at the same time.”

“I had a feeling you’d react that way,” I said.

<Butch> So did I. Get your woman under control, man!

<Me> Sleep

<Butch> Really? I thought I’d be needed.

<Me> If we need you, I’ll wake you. Thanks, by the way. I’m impressed with the job you’ve done so far. If I had any dog biscuits, I’d toss one to you.

<Butch> And with that, I’ll sleep.

“What’s he saying now?” JJ asked.

“I just put him to sleep. What’d you think?”

“We’ve got plenty to talk about. Maybe we ought to grab some tacos and take them to the Zephyrus.”


“It’s kind of our love nest, isn’t it?” She shot me a glance, pointing to the ceiling. I nodded.

“Oh, feeling romantic again, are you? Good. Me too, and tacos sound great. Let’s go.”

To be continued…


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