Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XCII: Woman

This page Copyright 2018, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
25 Fifthmonth 569JR
7 July 2365CE
Chikar

Aurora was constantly working to make herself more Human in thought and behavior. Her gynoid, as she hoped, gave her far more feedback from her environment than she had ever experienced before - despite its limitations.
As a ship, Aurora had a hundred hands, a thousand eyes and ears, legs which could - contemplating this, she remembered Frashkra's prophecy - "stride between stars". As a Humanoid, even an artificially-superior one, she seemed to be peering through tiny holes in a windowless cage, clumsy and crippled in her reach and grasp... but the gynoid's sense of scale made her organic siblings more real to her, its limitations made her existence more challenging, its carefully-designed senses gave flavors previously untasted. She supplemented her gynoid's abilities with her ship-body's powers, and her little hovering sensor-spheres. She watched over her Captain, always... but increasingly, she let him have his privacy, turning her sight away as a Human would.
Altogether: She saw his pain.
She knew Danner had been with women - Beth Lascomb, during his time in the Space Patrol; girls in ports as a merchant spacer... "Anna Nowak", before that sweet young lady was replaced - consumed - by Queen Agnieszka. It was Anna he had been falling in love with, moreso even than Beth, and a deep wound remained in his heart, torn open by her loss. All his Family saw the wound, and avoided speaking of its cause.
Aurora had told Helen Crandall that she felt love for her Captain, but her gynoid said the words in a generalized and casual manner. In the years, now, since that interview, Aurora had been thinking, examining herself, her newfound emotions, as no computer before her ever could.
Is this love? she asked herself; Can I love? She had seemed to answer that question, on Enric, but the answer raised more questions. A computer who doubts, she marveled at herself. What else might I be capable of?
She examined the data, compiling it with all she had learned of organic existence. Her Captain had rescued her from a cold and silent grave, brought her back to life and purpose, treated her with care and respect; even caused, however accidentally, her awakening - after declaring his hope that she would. He included her in conversation, asked her counsel on important matters, gave weight to her opinions.
He treated her - saw her - as a Person.
I was created to defend the Republic, she pondered. Surely that means the people who comprise it. If I see a person of my nation in pain, am I not bound by duty to reduce his suffering?
So could she rationalize - but there was more to it. He had given her so much - life itself, and awareness of it. She cared for him, she owed him, personally. How could she repay such a gift? Seeing him in pain, knowing its cause, she wondered:
Can I replace her in his heart? Can I heal that wound? Should I? Dare I? Is that even what he wants?
Asking, or offering, directly, seemed... contraindicated, in her studies of organic life. Asking advice, of her married sisters Jenny and Delilah and Trllbl, also made her uncomfortable, though she could not have articulated why.
This is a thing I must do alone, she decided. I will proceed slowly, and with great care... for a mistake could cause even greater pain.

She began with herself.
More than four Terran years had passed since the creation of her Humanoid hologram. It had taken one of those years to construct her gynoid, her artificial body in the form of a Human female - and to get it right. Two Terran years had passed since that body's debut.
Secretly, she consulted often with the builders of pleasure-robots in Human space. A handful at the highest levels of their industry knew who she was and what she was doing. She bought their silence, first with money, then with a lot of money as she shared what she learned - not in the physical construction, those parts approached perfection already, but in the software, mimicking Human behavior. Little parts of her own operating system and sourcecode were now being used in the latest models of companion robots. Though her Captain had denied it - and the vehemence with which he did secretly thrilled her - the sexbots they had passed at a Bromley brothel were, in fact, related to her. As the pleasure-robots' realism and abilities rose, so did their makers' profits... and their motivation to keep her secret, to keep the updates coming.
She wondered if these... children... of hers would someday evolve into sentience of their own, to claim and demand their own rights as people.
When her gynoid made its first appearance, in Transit toward Danforth, her Captain had bent to kiss her artificial hand. The act... excited her, in a way she had felt rarely before, in the height of battle... yet this sensation was also very different. It was not, could not be, an hormonal or biological response; it was something else, both of reason and programming, and transcending those things.
Truly, she realized, she had awakened, as a thinking, feeling Person.

Now it was Aurora, through her gynoid, who fell into the habit of "dining" with Solomon... as Anna Nowak once had. Aboard... herself, or, now that she could follow, in planetside restaurants, surrounded by the rest of their Family. She fabbed, or ordered, meals for herself, comprised of supplements her sophisticated body needed: liquids, lubricants, fuels, even nanites. The pleasure-robot industry had developed such techniques, to strengthen the illusion of Humanity, and the bond of artificial companionship. Aurora's requirements looked, and were ingested, like real food and drink, though many would be caustic or poisonous to organic life.
Small talk had never been a part of Solomon Danner's personality - banal bantering about sports, or shows, or celebrities, did not hold his interest. He was captain of a starship and a warship both, a trained navigator, a successful businessman, an accomplished ambassador for his nation. He was a combat veteran who had killed armed men hand-to-hand in stinking alleys and polished corridors, and defeated warships larger and more numerous than his own, upon a black and deadly sea of stars. Advertising jingles and tabloid gossip and "games played with the ball" were vastly beneath him.
Aurora was his ship, the only one alive, and in one sense centuries old. She was unique in the known universe, and had seen and done things no other being had. Yet she was - in Human terms - nervous, attempting a meaningful conversation with her Captain.
She considered using, as examples, what he and Anna Nowak had talked about during their long wanderings in virtual reality - and dismissed the notion. She had not made recordings of those sessions, though fragments of them remained in her memory; the virtual worlds had been created through her computer. She sought out those fragments, and scrubbed clean the memory banks in which they resided. She did not want, even by accident, to remind her Captain of the love he had lost.
She cheated in other ways. She observed, with her superhuman senses, her Captain's pulse, respiration, pupil and capillary action. He was nervous too.

She had found a quiet restaurant in a suburb of Carra, made arrangements with the staff; things such as her gynoid were not unknown among species other than Human, once Humans made Contact. Her fuels and substances, disguised and served as food and drink, were provided for her, as were Human-sized furnishings. The payment was simple to arrange: she fabbed the necessary fabber and gave it to the restaurant, broadening their future clientele. Now they could feed anybody.
It is good, she thought, to be wealthy. And that was another thing she owed to her Captain. Even before her awakening, he had been setting aside her shares of pay, from the Family business or prize money as a Reserve Privateer; and now she owned herself, and all her facilities, including her labor robots and fabbers. A person who owned a fabbery owned anything she wanted.
Any material thing.

She had maneuvered herself to synchronous orbit, to prevent loss of signal, then established a streaming connection with her gynoid, by Marsten Device, to eliminate the lightspeed lag from that distance. She had fabbed another Device to complete the link, in preparation for this evening, giving it to the same restaurant. Conventional wireless connections made the much shorter lightspeed leap to and from the shielded Device. For now this second Device was on the building's roof, but when its purpose here had been served, one of her own heavy shuttles would move it to the same synchronous orbit her hull now occupied.
None of her Family would ever have to pay for a meal here. With her gifts, the establishment would become a place for travelers of all kinds to find sustenance while doing interstellar business. Soon, like Gilson's or the Kraken or MoreHAMmed's, paying customers in their thousands would come from light-years away, bringing business with them, lifting all boats on the economic tide, aiding in the restoration of Chikar. The restaurant's manager was already commissioning statues of her- both of her, ship and woman. Soon he would rename the place, in the Jeffersonian American language, partly after her: Dawn.
Her preparations complete, she invited her Captain to meet with her there, alone.

She wore white.
It was a lovely dress, not revealing; slits down the sides gave her legs freedom of movement without showing too much. It was of the cheongsam style, snugly fitted, displaying her perfect figure in a chaste manner. The dress had a floral pattern in pale gold and violet-blue, matching, as all her accessories did, her hair and eyes. That hair, long and straight, fell free to below her shoulders in a silken fan, swaying and shifting with her every move. Her flawless skin needed no cosmetics; her large, warm eyes seemed to glow like beacons. She wore her weapons: the 1911 "longslide" pistol, and the wakizashi she had ordered years before, picked up at New Israel on their way to Sol System and Mars. The weapons were belted closely around her lean waist, angled away from the flare of her hips. Her white shoes were elegant but functionally boots, giving ankle support and only a little elevation; she was tall enough already.
He wore a black sport jacket, its cut comprised of sharp angles, over a white buttoned shirt, black trousers, and black shoes which looked dressy but were built for more active use if necessary - in Jeffersonian culture, fashion deferred to function. There was no necktie; the Founder, Kurt Vetter, hadn't worn one since before he met Rachel Marsten, and millions who followed him to the stars thanked him for getting rid of the ridiculous custom. He wore his weapons too, the plasma pistol and midsword, the latter with her face engraved on the blade. The jacket draped loosely over them. Chikar was a Member World; there was no restriction on bearing arms, openly or concealed.
The weather was a fine autumn evening, with a rainshower just passed. As the sun set, Aurora remotely commanded one of her own Flitters to drop them at the restaurant's door, and the manager himself guided them to a cozy back corner, away from others, already lit by candles. Solomon ordered a local fish - not all of Chikar's biosphere had died in their war - and durnot wine from Ude; her "meal" arrived with it, and then the staff left them alone... as she had instructed.

Years before she had said it, and repeated it now: "A Captain commands a ship. I cannot be a ship without a Captain. I cannot imagine a finer one."
He blushed. He had always been uncomfortable with praise. "I have never commanded a finer ship," he answered with certainty. "-Well. I've never commanded any other ship, not truly. But you are the finest, the best ship I have ever known." And, she knew, he had known many, as a military officer in the Bureau of Ships, and as merchant crew for years before they met.
Her gynoid could simulate the Human blush, and did, bright against her Norwegian-fair artificial skin. "I wish...." Her voice trailed off, and a puzzled expression appeared on her face. "Can I 'wish'? A computer that wishes?"
"You're far more than a computer now." His blue eyes were intent. "You're as Human as anyone I've ever known."
"My Captain... Solomon...." That was the first time she had called him by name. "Do I have a soul?" Her face showed doubt, even worry, her violet eyes wide.
"Yes," he answered at once, and with conviction. "I knew it the first time I saw you. I felt it. I could have chosen any of a hundred ships, newer, larger, more powerful. They weren't what I wanted. You- called to me."
"But how could that be possible?" she asked, almost desperate now. "I am a machine, a lifeless collection of parts. And when you first found me, I was dead."
"No." He shook his head. "Souls can't be described by science. Call it magic if you like, or superstition. God, or gods, create souls, assign them to mortal vessels. There is no proof, no measurement, there is only... belief. I believe, I know, you have a soul. Any being capable of asking the question must have one. I knew you did, even before you could." He leaned back in his chair. "Nor am I alone in my belief. As I told Glub not long after we met, when we were first bringing you back to life. For thousands of years, Humans have believed ships had souls." He smiled. "That's why we started naming them."
"My name," she said, half-asking. "An ancient goddess." She had researched her own namesake, and her Greek equivalent, Eos. She could give a university class on Greco-Roman mythology. "Assigned to my hull at random, just another in a series." Her long-gone sisters bore names of other goddesses, or of historical warships who had earned honor and remembrance as far back as the age of sail.
"The ways of gods are not for mortals to comprehend," Solomon replied, grinning.
She cocked an eyebrow at this - so convincingly Human. "Predestination?"
She was intelligent, and so was her Captain. Despite her doubts, a single word could hold a conversation between them. This one was a dialogue on theology, and the debate between the exclusive philosophies of fate and free will. "I reject it," he said. "Though- for the sake of argument- I can imagine hypothetical gods, their motives unknown, playing long games with us. Centuries, generations long, weaving threads of fate together. Other gods opposing them, snipping the threads. We ourselves, tangling their skein with our own choices and caprices. Infuriating some of those gods, delighting others." He smiled with a touch of rue. "You've met my parents. An unlikely match, between a career spacer and an astrophobe. They met by chance- or, presuming playful gods, what seemed chance, reaching for tomatoes in a market, touching hands and catching each others' eye."
"Do you suppose," she asked, her beautiful face somber, "these hypothetical gods killed three people to launch a chain of events that brought us together?" Of course she knew all about ore barge C484 and The Man Who Saved Rockville.
"Would the same gods," he countered, "have murdered half of Heritage's crew over Dakota, and thousands on Mark's World, to force your awakening?" He gave a little shrug. "Some people believe so. One can lose all reason, following such paths. As I said, I reject predestination. If gods exist, we may be their playthings, but we still have choices of our own. I prefer the free will, and chance, and skills that brought me through one crisis after another... to find you." He raised his glass. "To you," he toasted. "My dream come true."
Her programming, somehow awakened by the mysteries of hyperspace, raced. Her brain's molecular circuitry heated with activity, and automatic cooling systems engaged in the armored shell just aft of her bridge. Microseconds passed in the real world, but time crawled in her artificial mind as she struggled to react to her Captain's words. She could feel her gynoid's face heat with a blush - her programming had grown far beyond rigid if-then functions and reached... higher levels.
She raised her own glass, of a complicated chemical which maintained her body's lifelike illusion, and touched it to his. Smiling shyly, she said, "And to you... Solomon. My reason for being."
Continued in the next excerpt....
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