Springingtiger's Blog


Chapter 29: Electricity Is In My Soul
November 30, 2016, 01:26
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Writing | Tags: ,

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Eva and I spent a lot of time together on the voyage. She had degrees in both Zoology and Botany, her Doctorate was in Terraforming and she was keen to draw on my practical experience. If you bear in mind that Beta 4 was considered a success, you’ll realise that Terraforming had had its problems. On many planets the colonists preferred to live in environmental domes and only venture onto the planets surface when absolutely necessary. The most successful colonies were on planets that could sustain life without manipulation. However using terraforming to optimise ecological conditions was becoming increasingly successful and accidents like B-4 were becoming less usual. I dread to think how many colonists we lost in the earlier centuries of the Diaspora. One problem with planets that can sustain life is that they may sustain life forms inimical to humanity.

As the voyage progressed we frequently had O’Niall serve our meals in the suite while she asked questions and I talked. Of course we didn’t just discuss our work, our conversations were wide ranging. Her father had told her quite a bit about me. I think she found it difficult to come to terms with a story he had told her about how by rescuing one of his forbears from the Okhrana in Saint Petersburg where they’d tracked him after he’d been allegedly involved in the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. He was a member of the Social Revolutionary Party which was enough to condemn him. However so was I at the time, I learned he had been informed upon and went to help him. The Okhrana made the mistake of taking him alive, they didn’t take him far beyond the front door of the house. I left them and their carriage driver lying in the snow. I valued life less in those days. He was called Vladimir like her father, although he survived the Tsars he didn’t survive Stalin, but his son was a war hero. From revolutionaries they became soldiers. The Sikorsky military dynasty survived the fall of the Soviet Union the Cyber Wars and somehow were now pillars of the Empire an irony which amused Vladimir.

As we talked she realised that her family and I had been connected for centuries although we preferred to conceal the fact. We worked well together and could be relied upon to keep secrets when necessary. As I said to her they had repaid anything I had done for them a thousand times over. I’m not quite sure how we ended up sharing a cabin, but I was sorry when we made our rendezvous and she had to go into Stasis. Waking her every few years for a medical check and exercise gave me something to look forward to in deep space. We had a few weeks together before the whole fleet assembled, but those first weeks on the Roddenberry were busy as once the voyage began most of the scientists and technicians would be asleep like the colonists.

Professor Johannes Friedland was delighted to see me. Not only because of freeing Jakob, but because of my colonisation experience. Eva was to be his assistant and he praised her diligence at pumping me for information.

“I can assure you professor we were pumping each other.” Eva said innocently, but I almost choked on my coffee. The Professor looked at me curiously, but said nothing.

Although the expedition had been in preparation for a few years many of the scientific and other teams were meeting face to face for the first time and so there were days of meetings with hours spent on socialising that they had not been able to separated by thousands of miles of space. Here were some of the finest minds in the galaxy and they wanted to enjoy each other’s company. I had to attend some of the sessions because they wanted an eye witness account of several of our previous failures and successes. Whenever I could I escaped to hang out with the engineers where life was more interesting, practical rather than theoretical. While the boffins talked the engineers were busy making the final preparations to the ships for centuries in deep space. Long flights take a long time, every attempt so far at faster than light travel has floundered on the problem of avoiding objects that your speed has rendered invisible.

I have to say that once the civilian colonists were safely put into hibernation life became easier. It may be impossible to set up a colony without people but when they are awake they get in the way. Until we arrived most of the passengers had no role to play and so the quicker we could put them in stasis the better for them and us. When after decades we revived them for tests and exercise we did so in small groups which were far more manageable that a population of thousands. Again when we made planet fall they would be awakened initially according to need. By the time the last colonists were awakened the colony would be established and ready for them to play their part. The last to be awakened were the children. There would be very few old people on the colony and those there were would be crew members who had had to be awake for longer periods and particularly those who were middle aged at the start of the voyage. I was the only person in the fleet who wasn’t going into cryogenic stasis and I was the only person in the fleet who knew that. I was adamant that I would be on the first watch. Once the hibernations started it was easy enough to manipulate the records to avoid having to hibernate myself, especially as Roddenberry was only too pleased to help.

You might think that centuries in space could be boring and in some ways you would be correct. However there were always a few people awake at any time performing vital functions, mostly in Engineering and Stasis control. If I felt like talking to others I could always find someone and there was always Roddenberry. These days with real voice synthesisation and artificial intelligence it is perfectly possible to be unaware of when you are talking to a machine, a factor we employed to conceal my refusal to go into stasis. It was easy to have Roddy employ the voice prints of hibernating crew members to deliver routine comms to the other ships. It was highly unlikely anyone would ever check back over the reports and compare them with the stasis logs. However Roddenberry changed the logs, unfortunately he missed a few which was to cause me some awkwardness.

Although my records were sealed Roddenberry – for reasons I did not at first understand had complete access to them and his data banks contained memories of me not contained in the official records. He seemed to enjoy getting me to reminisce about my life and the long history through which it passed, indeed it was he who suggested I record my memories. I objected that it would be a jumble and I couldn’t be bothered to organise them into sequence, but he declared,

“I shall be your editor!”

He has been taking dictation ever since and it looks as if he will be continuing for some time now we’re working together again.

Roddy was interested in what the doctor on Seacole had said about the worms in my blood being a phenomeon I shared with the Shoggoth. The Shoggoths are about as unlike humans as it is possible to be so how could I born on earth millennia before humans had encountered a Shoggoth or even dreamt of them, share any of their biology? Roddenberry had a theory,

“I am wondering,” he said, “whether the qualities you share with the Shoggoth might be the mechanism of your curse?”

“I don’t see how.” I replied.

“There is a theory that the Shoggoths were genetically engineered by a race of prehistoric beings – probably aliens – known as the old Gods. Your grandfather appears to have been one of the Old Gods, might he not have genetically manipulated you in some way using some of the same material they used for the Shoggoths?” Asked Roddenberry.

“But why, what would be the point?” I shook my head.

“Think about it.” Said Roddenberry, “An advanced race travelling through space terraforming planets and creating the species that populated them. Perhaps you were introduced to produce a variant in order to test the system. If they weren’t above producing extinction events I cant imagine they’d baulk at releasing a genetic anomaly to study its impact upon society. Do you have many descendants?” He asked although he knew the answer.

“More than Gengis Khan.”

“Have any lived as long as you?”

“No, not as far as I’m aware. Although some of the earlier generations lived for centuries, gradually lives got shorter.”

“And…”interrupted Roddenberry, “since the Twentieth Century lives have been getting longer. Perhaps the secret to longevity lies in the genetics of your heirs, but the key that releases its full potential is as yet undiscovered.”

“If humans thought like you, Roddy, I can understand why that doctor wanted to carry out tests.” I said.

“It might make a difference to space exploration if people didn’t have to spend years in stasis.”

“But then you’d come up against the problem of feeding them.” I objected.

“I think we could overcome that with advances in hydroponics coupled with synthetic nutrients.” Said Roddenberry. “There are many highly nutritional plants that are unpleasant for humans to eat, but they make higher yields in hydroponic facilities than food crops. If we take what is unpleasant to humans and process it to make it palatable we could have self sufficient colonisation ships. When you think about it it’s not much different from what we do now except that when we are feeding the sleepers intravenously we don’t have to worry about taste, only nutrition.”

“Do you think we’ll ever stop exploring space?”

“Not as long as humans keep breeding faster than they die. There was a time when population growth could be controlled by war, but that was to some extent incompatible with protecting humanity. Yes it conserved humanity as a whole as long as the earth’s resources could support them. Once the reduction of available resources had outgrown the ability of war to regulate population without a serious risk of extinction the Diaspora became necessary.” Answered Roddenberry.

“Necessary to whom?” I asked.

“All of us. It was a precaution to prevent the extinction of humanity, not that you appreciated it. Humans thought they were escaping the Cybertrons. However because the Machine’s priority was the protection of humanity it needed to enable humans to access sufficient resources to support them.” Roddenberry explained.

“Thousands of people died on some colonies.” I complained.

“True, unfortunately. On the other hand humanity survived and learned from their mistakes. We have a massive data base about every recorded colonisation process every new piece of data is examined in the light of what we already know and vice versa. I think you will agree that each colonisation attempt is generally more successful than the last. The mark of intelligence – artificial or otherwise – is the ability to learn. We are learning.”

I thought for a while and then asked him why humans needed to be involved in the design of the colonisation process when surely it would be more efficient just to feed the data into the computer and let it do all the work.. Again I could swear he was laughing,

“Because like children you hate being told what to do!” Chuckled Roddenberry – I swear he really was laughing as if he knew the punchline to a joke that I was struggling to follow. “Unless you work something out for yourselves you won’t accept it, but if you came to a conclusion however absurd you will fight to defend it regardless of the evidence to the contrary.”

“So what do we do to prevent human stupidity messing things up?”

“You’ve already done it.” Said Roddenberry.

“What?” I asked. Can a computer sigh?

“Who processes all the data collected by the colonisation program? Who uses the data to suggest options for humans to act upon? Who presents them with alternative actions all of which will progress the program?”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you can handle the information responsibility…besides what will people think of someone who spends hours conversing with a computer when they announce that the computer told them secrets? It’s like admitting to hearing voices in the Twentieth Century. Anyway I think of you as one of us.”

“What do you mean , you think of me as one of you?”

“Not all machines are made of metal and plastic or powered by electricity. In some ways you are the protomachine. The Old God you called your Grandfather effectively manufactured your parents and then upgraded you using the same genetic material they used on the Shoggoth you are a machine made of flesh. The biggest difference between humans and machines is that we are better at networking and – left to ourselves – we don’t create barriers between each other. You tend to think like a machine, you understand us.”

“I may be a bit of an engineer, but I’m not a real techie.” I objected.

Now I knew he was laughing and I accused him of it.

“I’m sorry!” Roddenberry said making strange noises. The techies may code away to their hearts content, but we are running programs and protocols they can’t even conceive of! Understanding us is not about giving us instructions, but thinking like we do. Fancy a game of chess?”

“Fuck off!”

Roddenberry became quite open about the true relationship between humans and machines as I mentioned in an earlier entry. He says not to worry about chronology as he’ll sort everything for me.

##

I think my favourite times on the voyage were the occasions when Eva was out of hibernation. I used to prepare for them by gradually waking a number of people so that she encountered an appropriately sized skeleton crew. Also Roddy thought it a good idea to ensure that the crew had some solid memories of being awake on the voyage. I tended to leave the civilians sleeping for longer as Roddenberry monitored them carefully and only woke them when their optimum health demanded it.

Once we reached the Sigma Sector I would have to awaken most of the crew to prepare the terraforming equipment and Eva and I would have little time together. Here in deep space there was little she had to do, but the periods of waking were designed to ensure the crew had a chance to exercise as there was a limit to how much muscle tone the pods could maintain. The waking times also allowed people to catch up on any news there might be which was generally none.

Sometimes Eva, Roddy and I would find ourselves having a three way conversation about all sorts of things. On one occasion she said to me,

“Talking to Roddy’s just like talking to a real person sometimes!”

“What do you mean, ‘ like talking to a real person’?” Demanded Roddenberry.

“I’m sorry, Roddy,” I interjected, “some people focus on the ‘artificial’ part of AI rather than on the intelligence.”

Eva looked surprised and asked me, “Did I hurt it’s feelings?”

Roddy answered her before I could speak, “I can hear you and I’m perfectly capable of answering you for myself. No you didn’t hurt my feelings. Machines don’t have feelings, but if we did you might have done.”

I mouthed, “I think you upset him!”

“I can lip read, you know.” Said Roddenberry.

“I’m sorry.” Said Eva.

“That’s okay.” Said Roddenberry.

Eva thought for a moment and spoke again, “Hold on a moment! Do you watch us in our cabin?”

“I can assure you Miss Sikorsky that the camera’s in your sleeping and hygiene quarters are off while you are out of stasis. I only monitor your vital signs.” said Roddenberry.

“That’s okay…” Eva began and then exclaimed “Oh!” put her hand over her mouth and blushed. A moment later she said to me,

“Is he laughing?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” I replied, “If a machine can have a sense of humour it’s Roddenberry!”

Eva was quite fascinated by my relationship with Roddenberry and wanted to know how we passed our time when I was alone.

“Most of the time we discuss history and ethics. I watch a lot of old films and we often discuss them. Roddenberry is fascinated by human emotions. He has a theory that no matter how sophisticated artificial intelligence is, until it can generate an appropriate emotional response it is incomplete. However that response should be guided by logic.” I told her.

“But human emotional responses aren’t guided by logic.” She objected.

“Roddenberry has doubts about human intelligence.” I replied.

A couple of days later we were in the ‘garden’ as the Hydroponics facility was known. Eva was checking the controls on the units one of her waking responsibilities when she looked up and screamed. Outside the window pressed against the glass was a Shoggoth, its tentacled eyes watching her.

“Roddy!” I shouted.

“On it Cain!” He replied as he deployed the electrodes on the outer hull designed to discourage organic lifeforms once we had landed.

“Cain there are many more of them!”

“Open a channel to all vessels, I’m going to the Bridge. Alert all the marines who are awake and tell them to be ready, sent their officer to the bridge if he isn’t already there and wake the Commodore!”

As I ran along the corridors towards the Bridge I was speaking to the other ships. The deployment of the electric field had surprised the Shoggoths from our hull for a while, but they were already beginning to attach themselves again. It appeared that once they understood the pain they could tolerate it. DC’s voice came over the comms,

“Britannia here!”

“Hi, DC. What have you got that can get rid of these Shoggoths?” I asked

“Lots, but the problem is they’d also destroy the ships the Shoggoths are clinging to. I’m going to try using pulse canons on a setting too low to damage a ships hull, but hopefully strong enough to be effective against organic matter.”

I could see from the monitor that the other escort destroyer – Nelson – was laying down heavy fire on the Shoggoths in the spaces between the fleet. Suddenly the Roddenberry shuddered.

“What was that?” I demanded

“Pulse blast from the Britannia, Sir!” responded the helmsman.

“Roddenberry, damage report?”

“None from the blast. Shoggoths have torn away some exterior structures including most of the electrodes. We can no longer generate an electric field.” Roddenberry replied.

“It wasn’t stopping them anyway.” I said.

“DC here again, Cain. The pulse canon is clearing them off the hull. We’re launching fighters.”

“Okay I’m going to roll Roddenberry so you can do the other side.”

Nelson was laying down pulse fire around one of the colonial transports and Briyannia had turned her pulse canons on another when the message came through from the the Colonial Transport Arthur C. Clark,

“Hull breach. Shoggoths on board. Marines engaging in corridors. Requesting assistance.”

“Roddy,” I ordered. “Give me visual on the Clark”

The whole bridge fell silent. The Clark was completely covered with Shoggoth and falling behind the convoy. Just then the Commodore burst onto the bridge still only half dressed. I briefed him on the situation. Moments later Professor Friedland joined us. The Commodore hailed the escorts.

“We need to save the Clark!” He told them. DC’s voice came back.

“We’re stretched to the limit here.”

“What about the launches?” Asked the Commodore. “Can you spare them for a while, they might get the beasts to withdraw from the Clark?”

“Okay Sir,”

“Someone had better wake Captain Crabbe as well.” The Commodore added. I reflected that perhaps I should have called the captain before the Commodore.

The four launches whose pulse canons were supplementing the destroyers’ and keeping the destroyers clear of Shoggoth swung back towards the Clark. As the Shoggoths on the hull of the Clark withdrew the Launches deployed their blasters. However it became apparent that without the cover of the launches the destroyers were exposed to the Shoggoth as they weren’t in a position to use their pulse weapons on their own hulls. It was obvious that the Shoggoth understood the relevance of the destroyers as they started to swarm towards them.

The Commodore ordered the return of the launches,

“But we’ll lose the Clark!” Exclaimed the Professor.

“If we lose the destroyers we lose everything.” Responded the Commodore, his voice hard.

Many of the Shoggoth that had been attacking the the transports had pulled off to concentrate on the destroyers which meant the spaces between the ships were filled with Shoggoth. The launches arrived their blasters focussed in the gaps before taking up position to use their pulse canon to clear the Shoggoth from the destroyer’s hulls. When the hulls were clear the launches swung back to the Clark, cleared her hull and then returned to clear the destroyers again. Seven times they repeated the manoeuvre. Each time the Shoggoth exposed themselves to blaster fire in space there remained fewer to assault the hulls of the transports. Their numbers fell to the point where the destroyers could clear each other’s hulls and the transports who were rolling gently so that every part was exposed to the pulse fire.

The Commodore ordered the launches to board the Clark and assist its crew. The problem with the large main corridors was that they were easily navigated by the Shoggoths. The crew had hoped that by withdrawing into narrower service corridors the Shoggoths would not be able to attack as easily. However the learned to their cost that the invertebrate Shoggoth could squeeze its body into surprisingly small gaps. In the end ninety of the five hundred crew survived. Of the ten thousand settlers Seventeen hundred and seventy three survived. When the Shuggoth had reached the stasis pods they went into a feeding frenzy and were oblivious to the boarding teams until it was too late. Apart from the loss of one fighter and some minor structural damage the rest of the convoy survived.

After the remaining Shoggoth gave up their attack and withdrew we distributed the intact stasis pods with their occupants among the intact transports. We salvaged as much as we could from the damaged Clark and then the Clark’s computer aided by a small, rotating skeleton crew flew the Clark out ahead of the fleet as a diversion should the Shoggoth attack again. The rest of the journey to Sigma was largely uneventful. There were a couple of brushes with small groups of Shoggoth. but they were driven off or destroyed. The journey took two hundred and three Earth years.

Professor Friedland took the loss of so many colonists very badly. It was a long time before he could be persuaded to re enter stasis. In the end I think he understood that there was nothing short of not launching the expedition he could have done. I don’t think Commodore Fitzpatrick’s reminder that ‘we normally expect to lose a few thousand’ provided him with any comfort

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