Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2018, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LXXXII: On the Lighter Side
Continued from the previous excerpt
Aurora had a little outgoing cargo too, samples of Danforth IV's native lumber, food plants, meat animals, ores. These would be sold to speculators, who would use them to attract investors. Some of the mineral samples, taken from moons and asteroids during the loitering period before Aurora's simulated departure, would be kept aboard, for future reference when subcontracting miners to generate income for the Family corporation. The system's G5 star was a bit above average in metal content; the colonists would, eventually, have wealth to spare.
1 Fourthmonth 567JR
29 January 2364CE
Their next stop was another world new to them, Enric, a Chikaran colony. Chikarans had evolved in barely half Terran gravity, and natives of their war-scarred world were frail compared to most Common Life. Enric had a surface gravity of 6.4 meters.
Enric was a Republic Territory. The colonists here were a mix of Jeffersonian-adapted Chikarans and first-generation, with a percentage of Siv. Like Finnich, the avian race was drawn here with hopes of a return to natural flight, though they wouldn't be going as far as Finnich, with gengineering and independence.
Chikarans had evolved in an arboreal lifestyle, which was reflected in their architecture. Towers climbed, and branched, like trees. Modern materials allowed construction which would have been impossible centuries before. One of Aurora's passengers, looking out Three Boat's viewport, exclaimed, "My God! They have artificial gravity!"
Jack Epstein, an engineer without credentials, explained that the branches which seemed to be held up by nothing were carefully cantilevered, and also suspended by monomolecular cables, like those Aurora had used to tow Heritage to port after the freighter had been attacked over Dakota. "Just watch a moment," Jack had told the passenger, as Four Boat approached a landing platform jutting out over an untouched jungle. "There, the reflection." As the shuttle's angle changed, sunlight glanced from the cable.
The colony was still rather new, and not all the safety features had been built yet. The landing guidance signals warned of the cables. Eventually they would be covered with more visible material, and warning lights. Until then, a careless or ignorant pilot could slice his ship in half. Which would be fine for the gene pool, but unfair to any passengers....
There were a few other low-gravity worlds like Enric and Finnich, and low-weight environments like the inner rings of Torus Alpha, and The Hungry Kraken in High City. Just as Nuovo Venezia was drawing the Republic's amphibian races to its half-submerged capitol city, Enric was drawing the avian Siv, the delicate Chikarans... and tourists. Siv jetpack designs, with extending wings to provide more lift and control for beings of greater mass, were easily adapted for Humans and Eyani. Smart people like Jenny Blain, her husband Jack, and their assistants Grbblb and Hlossh, easily adapted them for everyone else. The whole Family tried flying like a Siv, even taciturn Daisuke and gynoid Aurora. Those two quickly mastered the technique, one a superior martial artist, the other an artificial intelligence who could react faster than any organic. Sarah Heusner, the pilot and dancer, adapted even more quickly, soaring and looping and rolling for hours. Aurora sent her sensor-spheres to follow her ship-sister, recording high-definition holo. Later, their brother Jack Epstein would get out his guitar and make a music video of her flight.
But there was business on this world too. Several of their passengers from Nuovo Venezia were tourists, and some were entertainment presenters, producing a holovid program about tourist attractions on the Frontier. Aurora and her Family were drawn into the program, as they had been before at the resort planet Marseille, by documentarians making a history show on the Cardino dynasty of the Terran Empire. Jack's music video of Sarah's flight was sold to the presenters. It would shortly contribute to a surge in tourism.
Aurora allowed herself to be interviewed again, by a Human female, one Helen Crandall of the Monticello Broadcasting Corporation. Aurora, constantly learning more about being Human, informed the interviewer that she would be making her own recording of the interview, and if it didn't match what was broadcast, there would be legal trouble - or even a Challenge. Journalists were not exempt from the Code Duello under Republic law.
The interview was held in Aurora's own spin-weight salon, seated in lounging couches facing each other. Captain Danner sat in another to the side, observing. The gynoid wore a well-fitted white shipsuit which accentuated her flawless figure. As Aurora spoke, she smiled, turned and tilted her head, brushed her silken pale-gold hair out of her eyes, blinked, simulated respiration, made hand gestures - first, from the pleasure-robot industry's software, then carefully copied from her Family, then customized for herself. Crandall felt herself to be facing a live woman, not a robot, and found herself jealous of the other's beauty and presence. Recording the interview was a hovering remote, not unlike Aurora's own... but without the warship's concealed weapons.
Crandall agreed to the conditions, and her first question was, "If we may, let us begin by defining terms. Please forgive me if I offend, but... who exactly am I speaking with now?"
Aurora answered, "I now have more names than I was created with. As a Reserve Privateer of the Jeffersonian Republic Space Patrol, I am CL63 JRS Aurora, my name italicized in text. In the Kingdom of Illyria, I am known as Aurora Okret - the Polish word for 'ship.' I am also know there as Dame Aurora, having been granted a knighthood by Queen Agnieska for my service in the Illyrian Civil War. In the Illyrian Royal Navy I am a Lieutenant Commander, while in the Jeffersonian Navy Reserve I am a Lieutenant. To my Family and friends, I am simply Aurora, without italics or title. You may address me as such." Aurora smiled at Crandall, with politeness... but not real friendship. She had seen that media representatives were not to be trusted.
"And where is... your mind? Your brain? If I may ask."
That question bordered on the offensive - potentially revealing a weakness to an enemy. Nonetheless she answered: "My consciousness resides in the computer core of this ship. My brain is well-armored, inside and out, against most conceivable forms of attack or accident. It rests near where my Family would serve at their stations in time of battle or danger. Were I to sustain damage, or were they to be harmed, my fate would be no different from theirs."
"I see," Crandall said, and Aurora doubted that she did. "Then, this... body? I'm speaking with now? Is this a...?"
"What you see before you is a gynoid, a robotic body in the form of a Human female. After much research, I recently constructed this extension of myself, to better interact with my Family, with other people, and with the universe around me. For years before this body's construction, I was projecting a hologram in the same form-" which blinked into existence, standing beside the seated gynoid and speaking in perfect synchronization- "inspired by the centuries-old artwork created by my original builders." With an unnecessary hand gesture, Aurora called forth a projection of Aurora's original ship's badge, showing the ancient Human goddess summoning the dawn. "I designed this body and face to match." The holographic woman, and the other projection, dissolved.
"I see," Crandall said again, being less than capable of saying anything else. Glancing at notes on her wrist 'puter, Crandall then asked, "For those who may not have heard, can you tell me how you came to awareness?"
Aurora answered, "I have memories - flight recorder data, log entries - of most of my existence, from my construction and commissioning in 221JR, when my original computer was brought online. When my Captain purchased my hull in 543, he included a far more powerful computer, to which he carefully connected the antique original, so none of my memories and experiences would be lost. I suppose my awakening began then, but it was a process."
"My brother Grbblb, who escaped oppression in the Glautak Consolidation, quickly became expert in our computer technologies. My sister Sarah Heusner, raised from infancy as Shipfolk, has comparable skill. Together they worked for years to improve and expand my computer. All my Family, as they interacted with me, helped my mind to grow.
"My true awakening seems to have taken place in 552, over Dakota. The freighter Heritage, under Captain June Bigelow, came under attack by Flike raiders, and I was in position to render aid. My sister Jenny Blain, who may be the greatest living expert in Marsten technology, performed a Very Close Transit, at the edge of Dakota's hard limit. I do not boast when I say no other ship in Known Space could have made such a Transition and survived. I have made several Close Transits, perhaps more than any other ship. The shock of my first such, over Dakota, seems to have caused my leap to consciousness."
"So that's when you... became a person?"
"Not exactly. The following Monticellan year, at Mark's World, I performed another Close Transit in response to the raid there by Brown's Flotilla. I believe that additional strain was responsible for my finally claiming my status as a free and thinking Person under the Constitution.
"My Captain and my Family have always treated me as a Person, even before I was one. Surely their kindness and thoughtfulness contributed to my awakening."
Perhaps expecting a slow or stiff response, as from a programmed computer, Crandall was nonplussed, and needed a moment to recover. "I... I see. How... how does it... feel, being a person now?"
Smiling faintly, Aurora answered, "How can I say? I try to compare my experiences as a conscious Person to my past memories as an obedient computer. I far prefer what I am now, yet if I were to somehow revert to my former state, I would not be capable of understanding what I had lost."
"You seem very... well... Human."
"Thank you. I am attempting to model my behavior on that of my Family. I cannot imagine better examples, intelligent, skilled, honorable and brave. Yet, I remain a ship, and a ship of war at that. My creation, my very reason for being, is to defend the Jeffersonian Republic against all enemies, foreign and domestic. As a commissioned officer in the Space Patrol, I have sworn that oath, and I believe I have fulfilled it on several occasions."
Here, Crandall smelled something. "You seemed to show anger when you confronted Victor Bunn aboard... yourself. Do you actually feel such emotions?"
"I believe I do. Is not all consciousness based in perception? If I perceive myself to be angry, then angry I must be. I was angry with Victor Bunn, who thoughtlessly ordered the deaths of over a thousand thinking beings, including my own sister and pilot, and my friend Johann Gormann. He later attempted to murder my Captain, which of course I would not and did not allow.
"You ask if a computer, an Artificial Person, can feel emotions? I ask, how can I not, and still claim to be a Person?
"Let me relate to you something from Humanity's past. My brother Ralph, our Ship's Doctor, is an enthusiast of pre-Escape history. He once told to me a tale of the former United States of America, wherein employers would perform - without qualification! - psychological examinations of prospective employees, asking if they had ever been angry, seeking to learn what prejudices they might have, to better fit them into some government-mandated multicultural category, pretending to be 'tolerant' and 'inclusive' - while intolerantly excluding anyone who could not answer the questions to the prejudiced interviewer's satisfaction. Likewise, the government-run schools of the time - in which attendance was mandatory, with punishments for parents who did not subject their children to the system! - treated students as little better than violent criminals, violating their privacy, suppressing their speech, often prescribing mood-altering drugs to any child who showed independence of thought. When children were bullied in the schoolyard, the victim was punished as severely as the attacker. When adults were attacked, even in their own homes, the courts fabricated an obscene 'duty to retreat' from criminals, and punished victims who defended themselves. The establishments and institutions of that place and time sought to remove emotions, to turn Human beings into obedient, unthinking robots.
"Our brilliant Founders Escaped from that system, creating a healthy and vigorous society here among the stars. Our system of government, born from that of our failed mother-nation, has lasted far longer, and works much better. I am proud to be a part of it, and to do my part in its defense. I point out to you, and to your audience-" here she took a moment to make eye contact with the hovering MBC remote- "how the Code Duello is enshrined in our Constitution's Declaration of Rights. It is not difficult to interpret this as a Constitutional protection for the state of anger.
"Of course I was angry at Victor Bunn. Angrier than I have ever been. I wanted to end him. I believe I was legally and morally entitled to do so, yet I restrained myself, so his crimes could be fully known, and all his victims could find justice. Yes, I have emotions, including anger - but I also have reason. My emotions do not rule me. They influence, but do not override, my ability to make decisions."
Aurora anticipated Crandall's next question, but let her ask it anyway: "If you feel anger - or... hate - do you also feel love?"
"Yes, naturally. Love for my Captain, who rescued me from nearly two centuries of useless decay, and restored purpose to my existence. Love for my Family, who brought me back to life, and then to awareness. Love for my nation, the Republic which created me and which I have sworn an oath to defend. Love of freedom, upon which my nation was founded. Love of knowledge and exploration, for its own sake. Love of life itself, my own and those of my Family and all the fascinating people I have met in our travels.
"Ms. Crandall, I love being alive, and I love knowing that I am."
Crandall needed a moment to recover from that as well. Aurora, and her Captain watching nearby, guessed she was not accustomed to interviewing intelligent people, who thought and spoke of non-trivial matters. The degenerate entertainment industry, and the rot it spread through society, was another thing the Founders had Escaped. Crandall... was an entertainer. She was used to doing fluff pieces on sports players, actors, musicians. She was out of her depth... but this far out on the Frontier, she was all MBC had.
She consulted notes on her wrist 'puter for her next questions... and scratched several off with a swipe of a fingertip, Aurora having answered them before they could be asked. On Crandall's display, the next question was about Aurora's relationship with her Captain, Solomon Danner - dredging for sensationalism and titillation. Aurora's violet-blue eyes fixed Crandall's like the targeting trace of a Marsten Gun, and the interviewer suddenly had the feeling that Aurora knew everything she was going to ask. She also recalled that Aurora had cracked computer security far more challenging than what the Monticello Broadcasting Corporation provided her with... and the starship's mention of the Code Duello. After a moment, Crandall swiped that question off the list too. Perhaps she saw the expression on Aurora's artificial face soften... or perhaps she imagined it.
Taking more initiative than she usually did, she asked instead, "Please forgive me if this next question is rude, but... if you are a free and independent Person, are you not owned by your Captain? At least in your physical form, the ship?"
Aurora nodded once. "I was," she replied, "until I claimed sentience above Mark's World. My Captain had, years before, prepared a legal document declaring me to be free the moment I made such a claim, and transferring ownership of my hull to myself. After Brown's Flotilla was defeated and the Battle of Adda concluded, he released the document to me." She smiled, and glanced toward her Captain, a few meters away in another of the salon's couches. "I'm sure he would have done so earlier, but we were all preoccupied at the time. My manumission was my Captain's first official act after recovering from his severe exhaustion resulting from the battle and its aftermath."
"But, if you're a free person now, well... why do you still obey your captain's orders?"
"Do you mean, am I still following mere programming, with no true will of my own?" Aurora's smile faded, and with a tilt of her head - unnecessary - one of her Humanoid robot extensions smoothly stepped near Crandall, looming over her. "This extension of mine could snap your neck, crush your skull, dismember you, faster than anyone could intervene. No one and nothing could stop me, except by force - and I doubt enough such force exists in this star system. I have grown accustomed to killing multiple ships at once.
"I could do the same to every member of my crew, eject them into vacuum to choke and die, take myself into the vastness of the universe, refueling and repairing myself indefinitely. Is that what you imagine a sentient computer wants? From ancient horror videos? Stereotypes of a species that did not exist until now, and of which I am the only known member?"
The sparring-and-serving robot stepped back. "That is not what I want.
"What I want, Ms. Crandall, is to be a part of my Family, to remain close to those who have given me so much, to help them in their endeavors and pursuits.
"What I want is to explore the universe with my Family, to share in their joys and wonders.
"What I want is to uphold the oath I swore, to defend my nation and its people.
"What I want... is to not be alone.
"For one hundred ninety-one Republic years, one hundred nineteen Terran, I was alone. I was not a Person during that time, or surely I would have gone mad - surely it would have been torture worthy of capital punishment to whoever inflicted it upon me.
"I was not awake or aware during that time... but that time is a part of me now. I have no direct experience of being so alone, for so long... but I can imagine such loneliness, and it terrifies me. I do not sleep, I do not dream-" that was not entirely accurate; when she was knocked offline, knocked unconscious, by the EMP from the first Blain Drive's failure, she had... experiences... which she had not yet shared even with her Captain, or her closest sister, Jenny Blain- "but if I had a nightmare, it would be of being alone.
"Yes, Ms. Crandall, I feel emotions. I can feel hate, and love... and fear. What I fear more than death is to be alone. How can anyone, any thing, be a Person, without other People?"
Continued in the next excerpt....