Space Opera Part 28 – Central AI

There was still a line for Tacos, several people motioning for JJ and me to cut to the front of the line. I refused.

“You’re gaining some points,” JJ whispered as we waited, more people lining up behind us. “This is quite an event.”

“I was chatting with a young lady about this, on my way back from the Zephyrus a few hours ago. She said it reminded Earthlings of home. I think she has something there.”

“Makes perfect sense when you think about it,” she said. “Imagine if all of these people were in the cell.”

I turned towards her, nodding in agreement. “That’s the appalling part, I take it.”

She smiled. “One of them. Just the fact that it exists in it’s current state is appalling.”

We wormed our way through the line, getting our food after about twenty minutes. Then it was off to the tin can and down to the main bay, where we made our way to the Zephyrus, the ramp opening as we walked towards it.

“Was that Butch?”

I smiled. “No, we can use mind dictation for anything the PA interface can do. I’m liking it, now that I’m getting used to it.”

We got to my stateroom in a few minutes, taking our tacos to the table.

JJ had a bite. “Oh, wow, these are heaven.”

I tried mine, the rich Mexican flavor filling my mouth. “Yeah, these are good. Haven’t had food like this since I left Earth.”

“Can we still talk freely in here?”

I nodded yes, still chewing a mouthful of taco. “Wish we had some beer.”

“You can get some from the replicator,” she said.

“Have you tasted that?”

She shook her head no. “Bad?”

“I’d rather drink water. There’s good beer on the New Jersey, of course. We’ve got two breweries on board.”

JJ rolled her eyes. “Ah, yes, wherever men settle, they’ve always got to get a brewery going.”

We finished our food, and I cleaned up the mess, putting the waste into the disposal unit.

“Okay, let’s chat. What do you think about the AI functionality?”

JJ leaned back in her chair, grabbing her water and gulping half the glass. “In the right hands, this functionality could be a game changer. In the wrong hands, it could be the death of individual liberty in the entire Universe.”

“I’d like to know who the developer is, but Butch is blocked from telling me, and Vermillion won’t spill the beans until he has to.”

“The Samson Corporation had a partnership with the PA Corporation, remember?”

I paused for a moment, thinking back on the conversation I had with Vermillion, when we’d discovered the stun capability. “You know what that means, right? A partnership between a behemoth like the Samson Corporation and a much smaller company like the PA Corporation really isn’t a partnership. Vermillion’s board probably owned a controlling level of stock in the PA company.”

“Wonder which of the new plants the developer is at right now?” JJ asked.

I chuckled. “We’re on the same wave length. I wonder how many PA Corporation leaders are hiding with us? Hell, the developer could be on the New Jersey right this second.”

“I doubt it,” JJ said. “Realistically, though, the Overlords must have taken control of the PA Corporation. How else could they have run the stun attack on Manhattan, and then attempted an Earth-wide attack afterwards?”

“This is the reason I’m leaning towards designating myself as the Central AI Host. I don’t believe the leadership of the PA Corporation wanted their devices to be used for the stun attacks.”

“Why?”

“Because of what happened,” I said. “All but a very small percentage of Earthlings removed their PAs after the Manhattan attack and the warning from Hamilton Zenos, remember?”

“You’re saying they wouldn’t participate because it will reduce their installed base?”

“Exactly. People are afraid to use their product now. The PA Corporation only earns revenue when their devices are active on a live host. We know they lost a lot of money on Earth when people took off their devices. Wonder how far the word spread? Hamilton Zenos is popular all over the Central Authority Zone.”

“Maybe the Overlords simply took over the PA Corporation as part of the destruction of the Samson Corporation.”

I nodded. “And perhaps the brains behind the PA Corporation are hiding out with us. Kinda looks that way to me.”

“Vermillion seemed to be upset about the capabilities of the AI system. Said he was going to have a chat with the developer, remember?”

“Yes, I remember. Wish I trusted Vermillion completely. Given his part-ownership in the PA Corporation, I find it hard to believe that he didn’t know about the features of the AI system.”

“The functionality could be used as mind-control across the entire Central Authority Zone,” JJ said. “I think mankind is in more danger today than at any other time in their history.”

“That is the main danger I see. Some features of the AI system are positive, given our position today as hunted rebels.”

“What parts are positive?”

“If we were pushed to the wall and had to fight for our lives, the advance weaponry controls of this AI system would give us an edge over every system in the Central Authority Zone.”

“You’re talking about the Nano controls?”

I nodded. “Also the coordination capability.”

“You wouldn’t turn on the mode that places the Central AI in control over unconscious soldiers, I hope.”

“No, JJ, that is something I’m dead set against no matter what. I don’t think that would be helpful anyway. Individual human minds are better at situational awareness and decision making than a Central AI system.”

“I know people who think AI is the future of mankind.”

I looked JJ in the eye. “Depends on what we’re talking about. Helping us control our technology? I’m all for AIs to do that, as we’ve discussed already. I’m completely against AI functionality overriding human behavior. That should be illegal across the Universe.”

“Which brings us back to the question – can we trust Chairman Vermillion?”

I was silent for a moment, thinking about everything. I looked up at JJ, who turned away quickly, after staring at me. Her expression was different, and her face was flushed. It scared me for a split second.

“You okay?” I asked softly. “That was a different look than I’m used to.”

“I’m getting to like you more, dummy,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. Frankly I’d be more worried if I wasn’t having these kinds of feelings by now.”

“Oh, it’s all about the ruse, huh?”

“Stop it. If there was nothing there, I wouldn’t have suggested our arrangement to start with.”

I smiled at her, and she flushed red. “You’re so beautiful, especially like that.”

“What’s your decision?” she asked, trying to change the subject away from our relationship.

“I think I’ll pursue you.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said, flashing the look again. A warm feeling flooded over me.

“Oh, you meant about the Central AI? I’m going to claim it. Don’t think we have any choice. Somebody might have hacked into the PA system to do those stun attacks. If they can do that, they might be able to take over our cell by claiming the Central AI. We can’t take that risk.”

“Good, that’s what I hoped you were going to say,” she said.

“Uh huh. You’ve got that look again.”

She sighed. “What do you want from me?”

“Everything, but for now I’ll settle for our arrangement. Speaking of our arrangement, come here.”

“I’m too worked up right now.”

“Good,” I said, taking her into my arms, kissing her passionately. She struggled for a split second and then gave in, moaning into my mouth, her hands roaming on my shoulders and back. When we broke it she looked flustered, which egged me on even more. I kissed her again. She didn’t hesitate this time, but instead leaned back on the bed and rolled me on top of her, our passion reaching a fever pitch in seconds.

“Oh, God,” she said, looking at me afterwards. “We’re losing ourselves.”

“I’m completely under control.”

“What would you do if you weren’t under control?” she asked.

“I’d get your clothes off as quickly as possible.”

She laid silently under me for a long moment, staring into her eyes. “I want that.”

“Me too, but not yet,” I said, getting off her. “Stick with the plan for now. It’s the best choice. Especially after what we just discovered.”

She sat up, looking down at her lap for a moment, her breathing slowing to normal. “Are you going to okay our AI creation now?”

“Back to business, huh?” I quipped. “Yes, you can go ahead, but follow the setting instructions that Butch sent to you.”

“Good. I’ll go back to my stateroom and get to work. Let me know when you’ve got the Central AI in place.” She got off the bed, walking towards the door, but then stopping, turning around to face me. “What happens when we get to the tipping point?”

“Tipping point?”

She nodded. “The point of no return. When neither of us can hold off anymore.”

“We aren’t close to that yet, are we?” I asked.

“I didn’t think so until just now.”

“What do you want to happen?”

She smiled at me. “I can’t talk about that right now, or I’m lost. See you later.”

She left my stateroom. It took me a few minutes to settle down.

<Me> Wake up, Butch.

<Butch> Wow, your emotions are off the charts. Oh, JJ. Should’ve known.

<Me> I’ve decided to claim the Central AI.

<Butch> Wise decision. Would you like me to take care of that now?”

<Me> First make sure that both JJ and Nolan have the input parameters for their AIs, then start work on the Central AI hosting.

<Butch> I can multi-task, you know. I’ll start all three tasks now. JJ already has most of what she needs. I sent it, remember?”

<Me> I remember.

<Butch> Wow, that’s quite a look she was giving you. That memory has a pointer. You’ll die with it still close at hand.

<Me> Huh? What are you talking about?

<Butch> Humans have certain memories that stand out. I can tell those memories from others. They have a handle for easy indexing and referencing. When humans lock eyes like that, it impacts your body chemistry. You two agreed in a split second.

<Me> Agreed on what?

<Butch> You both recognize that you are potential mates. The bonding will accelerate now. Try not to get too obsessed.

<Me> I’m not getting obsessed.

<Butch> I can read you like a book. She is on your mind approximately 71.00021% of your waking time. More when you’re asleep. Figures don’t lie.

I sighed. “Fine, I like her. Satisfied?”

<Butch> Interesting how you switch to vocal communications when your emotions are strong. If you were Italian you’d probably be waving your hands around, too.

<Me> Racist stereotypes, Butch? Really, man.

<Butch> Man? Well, at least you didn’t call me dude, buddy, or pal.

<Me> You probably consider man to be an insult.

<Butch> No I don’t, that you know of.

I laughed.

<Butch> Did I say something funny?

<Me> Take care of the AI tasks, and let me know when you’re free for another project.

<Butch> What other project?

<Me> How are your research skills?

<Butch> Better than Nolan’s, and that’s saying something. What do you want me to investigate?

<Me> I want to know how tightly the PA Corporation is integrated with the Samson Corporation. I also want to know who is controlling the PA Corporation now that the Overlords have outlawed the Samson Corporation.

<Butch> I’ll do it, but you might not like what I tell you.

<Me> That’s why I want to know. Get back to me when you’re ready. I’m going back to the New Jersey bridge for a while. How much longer until we get out of this jump?”

<Butch> Fifteen hours, give or take. Would you like a more precise prediction?

<Me> Nope, that was perfect.

I splashed some water on my face, and then left the Zephyrus, getting to the New Jersey bridge in less than ten minutes. Skip and Nolan were there, chatting about something.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Skip looked over at me. “Still trying to find out more about Ecason and Simone’s ships. Everything okay?”

“So far, so good. Last estimate said another fifteen hours in the jump.”

“That’s what my estimate is,” Nolan said. “We’re still going to mine the end of our worm hole, correct?”

“Yes. Hopefully jumping onto the natural worm hole will throw them off of our real destination.”

“It will,” Nolan said, “but I’m still concerned. Simone might have planted somebody near Boroclize to watch for us.”

“Even though we aren’t heading towards that area?” Skip asked.

Nolan nodded. “If I were Simone, I’d plant somebody at each and every system where clean Boron is available.”

“That’s thousands of systems,” Skip said.

“She knows we don’t have unlimited amounts of fuel, which cuts the number of possible sources she’s likely to watch way down. I’m not including the distant systems. Only the systems that are within a certain range.”

“What number do you get with the range adjustment?” I asked.

“Just under a thousand.”

I chuckled. “This is gonna be the luck of the draw. We’ll have to watch carefully, but the chance that she’ll be at Boroclize is slim, in my opinion.”

<Butch> You are correct, Trey. Nolan enjoys getting people worried a little too much.

<Me> He’s cautious, which I believe is a plus in our situation. Did he finish his AI settings?”

<Butch> Yes. The build is coming along nicely. Should be done in less than three hours.

<Me> And JJ?

<Butch> Hasn’t started yet. Judging by her room sensors, I believe she is sleeping now.

<Me> Good, she could use it.

Nolan eyed me, a knowing grin on his face.

“Hungry?” Skip asked. “I’m going to grab something at the snack stand.”

I patted my belly. “Tacos. I’m good for a few hours.”

“Nolan?” Skip asked.

“No thanks, Skip. Enjoy. I’ll continue looking at this.”

<Butch> Prepare to be chatted up about the AI.

Skip left the bridge.

“Well, Captain, did you go Central?”

I nodded. “Takes a while to build. Butch is working on it.”

“Mine is in the building process as well. Thanks for the settings.”

“We’ll have to thank Butch for that.”

<Butch> You’re damn straight.

<Me> Shut up.

“He made a comment, didn’t he?” Nolan asked.

“He’s a smart ass.”

Nolan and I laughed, Butch sending a sarcastic snicker into my ear implants.

Skip was back with a basket of French fries and two cups of sauce. “Want some?”

“Pass,” I said. “I’m gaining enough weight on this ship as it is.”

“I’ll pass too,” Nolan said. “I need to go back to my stateroom for a while.”

“No worries, I’ll hold down the fort,” Skip said. “Sondra will be back here any minute. I saw her eating at one of the tables when I got this. She was almost done.”

“Think I’ll go back to my stateroom too,” I said, getting up. I followed Nolan into the hallway.

“Your build is almost done?” I asked softly.

“More prompts,” he said. “I could do it in there, but it’s too hard to concentrate while Skip is firing questions at me.”

“That’s Skip,” I said.

“Oh, he’s a good man, but we’ve got an awkward situation. Hopefully we’ll come to a time soon when we don’t have to hide the existence of our AIs.”

“That time might not come in the foreseeable future,” I said as we neared the tin can station.

“Captain, we’re going to need every bit of edge we can get. We’ll eventually have to distribute this technology to all of our officers.”

“I doubt Vermillion shares your view on that.”

Nolan chuckled. “He wants to hold off on it as long as possible, and I don’t blame him for that, but if we’re in a fight to the death, we’ll be glad they’re available. Here’s my ride.”

“You can move to the New Jersey if you’d like,” I said.

“I prefer to stay on the Zephyrus for now, if that’s all right, Captain.”

“No problem. I’ve still got my stateroom there.”

“Talk to you soon. When my AI is ready, I’ll have it contact your AI.”

“Sounds great,” I said. I watched as he got into a tin can headed for the main bay. I decided to walk back to my stateroom. My head was spinning. Nolan was right, we would end up using the full capability of the AI, but it won’t be a decision to be taken lightly. Not by a long shot.

<Butch> You got that right, junior.

<Me> It’s not polite to eavesdrop.

<Butch> I’m on or I’m off. Your choice.

<Me> On. How’s the Central AI build coming?”

<Butch> Faster than I expected. Glad you’re heading back to your stateroom. We ought to be ready for parameter settings by then, and you don’t want to be carrying on a conversation while doing that. Trust me.

<Me> Did JJ do her prompts yet?”

<Butch> Yes, finally. She’s behind Nolan by a few hours.

<Me> I figured. It’s not a problem.

<Butch> I have a request. It’s for that other task.

<Me> The PA Corporation research?

<Butch> What other task did you give me?

<Me> Okay, okay. What?

<Butch> I can’t do much while we’re in this jump, unless I can use the holographic system’s node. Do I have your permission to do that?

<Me> Probably. I need to get back to my stateroom first. There are settings on that system that I’ll need to check.

<Butch> Planning to limit my ability to talk to people?

<Me> Wouldn’t you?

<Butch> No. Just kidding. Yes, I would. Why do you insist on walking so much? It’s a waste of my time.

<Me> I’ll take that under advisement.

<Butch> That sounded a little sarcastic.

<Me> We’re communicating well.

To be continued…

 

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