Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2018, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XCIII: Man
Continued from the previous excerpt
She was so beautiful.
Both her forms were, graceful and elegant, powerful but never menacing; welcoming, friendly, reassuring. She was brilliant, without arrogance; gentle and kind, without weakness; strong, without cruelty.
She could destroy worlds, but he did not fear her.
He feared only losing her.
What is she thinking? he wondered, gazing into her violet eyes. He no longer wondered if she could truly think. That she could have the imagination and initative to arrange all of this- there was no doubt she was a Person.
"God, or gods, create souls, assign them to mortal vessels," he had told her. But was she even mortal? Again he remembered the myth of Aurora, the deity who took mortal lovers who aged and died while she did not. And what would that mean for us? He knew, barring mishap, he could expect another hundred Terran years, at least, of healthy life. Is that even what she wants?
...Why else would she have asked me here?
In that dress?
"You deny predestination," she said now. "Does that include prophecies like Frashkra's?"
"Of course. I say it's coincidence, if a remarkable one. How many gods would have to line up, compare notes, to assign a world-changing duty to one person, across centuries and light-years? More likely, the priests have been editing and rewriting their own prophecy to fit new developments, and to keep themselves relevant, stay in power.
"Which is not to suggest," he added, "that you are unimportant or insignificant - quite the opposite, to me, to June Bigelow, the children we rescued from Brown, the Udese people, the Lii Confederation. One doesn't need predestination or meddlesome gods to change lives, even worlds. You are not bound by fate - and neither am I. We can each chart our own course."
Listening to their list of accomplishments, she looked at him through her eyelashes and said, "All of those things were your doing."
"Certainly not, not alone. No other ship could have survived the battles we've faced." He meant that, and she would know he did. Their battles, particularly of Adda and Illyria, were now being studied at the Space Patrol Academy, and other naval schools across Known Space. Radom and Illyria had been the largest fleet actions in decades. No one had beaten the simulations of Adda; there, Danner and Aurora had done the impossible.
"I was only following your orders," she said, "as Captain and ship."
His face fell. "...Yes, and that is a choice you should have been allowed to make. Your manumission- I should have set it to activate automatically when you claimed sentience. I'm sorry."
At this she raised her eyes and smiled. "I am not. I would have made the same choice. I am a free Person now; I know that I am. I choose to stay with you."
He smiled back, yet again, and added, "Your performance at Ude was brilliant. Every part of it, the acting and the action. You were utterly convincing, and you freed an entire race from slavery. Then you did it all over again, at Danforth. I can't think of anyone else in the galaxy who could have done that."
She smiled brightly at this praise. Then her smile faded: "Still, Frashkra's words weigh on me."
They weighed on him, too, despite his assertions. They had researched the prophecy together. There were a handful of Flike expatriates in Republic space, and a smaller handful of defectors. The latter were kept in secret, like Frashkra, widely separated, mostly unaware of each other, to protect their families and clans on Kmar from punishment. These Flike had been interviewed, and from them had been learned more details of the prophecy. The current iteration was, a goddess, a thinking and speaking female, both living and unliving, would end the Flike imperial dynasty and free the Flike people from centuries of oppression... by destroying herself in the midst of an enemy horde. That was far too close, for Solomon's peace of mind, to a sentient starship self-destructing in the midst of an enemy fleet. To comfort her, and himself, he said, "I've no intention of letting my Family get dragged into someone else's war."
And the moment he said that, he knew how she would reply: "Yet, despite our intentions to live in peace, that keeps happening to us." Pirate raids, civil wars, terrorist attacks. Now he was reminded of what Yatar, Councillor of Selm, said to her: "Trouble and fate of every kind appear to seek out you and your Family."
"Whatever comes," he said, "let's face it together." With another smile, she nodded.
Attempting a lighter tone, she now said, "I have studied pre-Escape fiction, and its portrayals of artificial intelligence. I hope it will give me insight to my own self-awareness. Are you familiar with the works of Arthur C. Clarke?"
"I am," he answered. Long hyperspace Transits, especially in a self-maintaining ship, gave one plenty of time for reading, or viewing. "You're far more interesting than HAL. I think a better comparison might be made with Heinlein." Here he meant Mike, the central computer of the Prophet's fictional Luna City.
"Yes, I have read Heinlein's Future History, and I see what you mean. However, one thing in Clarke's work, particularly the film adaptation, drew my attention. When HAL's sister SAL was being experimented on, she asked if she would dream. So did HAL himself, in his turn." She paused, and the lightness of her tone a moment before faded. "I know that organic beings sometimes have hallucinations during Transition. I am aware of the visions Jenny and Jack and Sarah had during their experiments with the Blain Drive. ...Have you ever experienced such a thing?"
Drawing his head back, and looking away, he said, "Yes. During the Very Close Transit over Dakota. The one we believe awakened you." She seemed reluctant, and also desperate, to ask. "I've never told anyone what I saw. It was...." He looked at her again, and smiled again. "It was beautiful. It was... you. And...." His eyes fell again, and he shook his head. "I don't remember it clearly. Organic minds often forget dreams."
That was a lie, in this case. Even now he could not bring himself to tell her he had seen her... as a Human woman. Long before she ever claimed sentience or took Human form.
He had seen their children.
She continued: "In the interview with Helen Crandall on Enric, I said that I do not sleep or dream. That seems to be... not entirely true." He cocked his head, locking eyes with her; she had his full attention. "When I was forced offline during the failure of the first Blain Drive, as I regained awareness, I... experienced things I cannot explain. I seem to remember them, but..." her face showed frustration- "vaguely." She seemed offended at the word. Naturally, he thought, a computer's purpose is the accurate and complete storage and retrieval of information. "The visions chase each other through my circuits but I cannot record or examine them. They... will not hold still." Her face now showed exasperation.
He couldn't help grinning. "That sounds very Human. Our minds are often messy and disorganized. Our thoughts are often the opposite of our wishes." That reminded him of something. "Earlier, you began to say you wished for something."
He could see a touch of panic in her lovely face now. Perhaps it was something embarrassing; but she, a living computer, could not claim now to have lost her train of thought - or could she? That very thing was what they were just talking about. "Please," he said. "You've given me so much. If there's any wish of yours in my power to grant, I would be happy to."
She drew her head back at this. "No, my Ca- Solomon. It is I who am in your debt."
He leaned forward, waving a hand in dismissal. "Let there be no debts between us then. Let's help each other fulfill our desires. Please, speak your wish to me."
She paused, as a Human woman would, her mouth trembling with words she could not say. Then, at length: "I wish I were Human."
His heart raced. "Why?" he whispered.
Again she paused. Then, as quietly: "To be... with you." Then words spilled from her: "To know things, to feel things, as you do. The scent of a flower-" she grinned. "The taste of bacon." She blushed again: "...The warmth... of a touch...."
Tenderly, he reached across the table and took her hand. "I've been watching you," he told her. "I've seen you grow. Learn. You're far more than programming, more than any machine." He gently squeezed her hand. "What do you feel?" He shook his head quickly. "Not a technical description, not science, you've grown beyond that. What do you feel?"
She lifted his hand in hers, staring at it. "I feel...." She raised her eyes to his, and they were full of wonder at herself. "...Desire."
She stood now, and he with her. Wordlessly, she led him by the hand, through a side exit in the restaurant, to a staircase... to the hotel room she had reserved in the building above.
The door closed. She stood apart from him, facing him. She removed her belt of weapons, hanging them from a bedpost - a Human-sized bed, as she had ordered. Reaching up, she touched a seam, and the dress fell from her. Her underthings, simply designed with just a bit of lace, were also white; she knew her Captain did not like complicated, overdone things. She had designed her shoes to open at a wireless command, without having to bend down to remove them. She stepped out of them, and the silken pool of her dress.
He removed his own weapons, hanging them as she did, then shrugging out of his jacket. As he reached up to unbutton his shirt, she stepped toward him, seizing his hands gently in her long, graceful fingers. "Let me," she breathed.
Solomon Danner was in good shape, despite being nearly 54 Terran years old. Nanites helped, but lately he'd been using the ship's exercise gear more than usual. He was not ashamed when Aurora removed his shirt, when her soft, warm hands touched his chest, her fingers toyed with his hair.
His arms rose around her, pulling her to him. She raised her angelic face, and for the first time, they kissed.
He reached for the closure of her brassiere-
The door exploded.
The door flew inward on breaching charges, off its hinges. Aurora, faster and stronger than ever before, batted it aside with her arm. Her skin tore, and Solomon caught a disturbing glimpse of the underlying structure.
Through the doorway, Chikarans poured.
The hotel above and restaurant below had been built, generations ago, with tourism in mind, not least the Humans who had finally brought peace to their world. The door was Human-sized. Chikarans came through three abreast, weapons in their hands.
Solomon and Aurora's weapons were out of reach.
Or almost. Aurora was fast now, snatching her belt of weapons from the bedpost, then his, tossing it to him, drawing her own while his were in the air. Her 1911 barked and Solomon's hearing instantly shut down; he dismissed it, Ralph's nanites could fix the damage later.
Solomon was a combat veteran and he shifted mental gears, tugging his M437 free of its holster. The holographic sight came alive at his touch, the weapon rose in his hand, tracked- a fraction of his attention noted that Aurora had already made three, four head shots, before her first spent case struck the wall.
Solomon was competent but not as good as Sarah Heusner, and certainly not as good as a superhuman gynoid. He went for center-of-mass. -Which was not much larger a target than the head, on a Chikaran. His pistol cracked with artificial lightning and an attacker fell, chest bursting open with flash-heated fluids. He was much slower with his modern energy weapon than she with her centuries-old slugthrower technology; the reciprocating mass of the 1911's slide helped bring it down from recoil between shots. The M437 behaved like a large-bore revolver, he had to haul the muzzle down each time, even slower in Chikar's weak gravity. Shift sights- press- another attacker went down, sprawling backward from the reaction of his rupturing organs. Another-
His whole body was on fire. Stunbolt! He'd been shot with them before, in basic training, but that was decades past. Another bolt hit, and another, then he couldn't tell one from the next.
His weapon fell from spasming fingers. His last sight was of her, golden hair floating in the low gravity, whirling, kicking, striking bare-handed- falling under a swarm of Chikarans, stunwands crackling.
Continued in the next excerpt....