An iteration based on feedback from you readers…
A lot of folks wanted more, saying the pacing was too fast, but this IS a short story, not a full length book.
Roberto de Perez was the last of the de Perez clan left alive after the twenty-seven eighty-seven Consolidated Union attack on the entire de Perez corporate hierarchy. The nuking of the yearly family gathering at the Los Alamos Albuquerque plant would have succeeded, but they missed Roberto, because he was late leaving the deep lab.
He spent almost three years in chemo and radiation treatment in addition to trying to rebuild the company. Due to the treatments, and required isolation, he set up remotes during his hospitalization that allowed him to connect with management. Partially due to paranoia, and partly due to the extremely restrictive security requirements, Roberto deployed a simulacrum properly aged and presentable that stood in for him since twenty-seven ninety-one.
In his own words, from private recordings- “I also decided I didn’t want to live in a fancy prison, which is what the compound in Los San Diego became. Due to my treatments, I cannot have children, either by natural means or by artificial. Something in the treatments has made my sperm and DNA toxic, so I’m truly the last de Perez. Since we were developing simulacra for GalPatrol to use for training, so I just slipped another one into the line. When it was ready, I did a nano pack change, and smuggled myself out of Los San Diego and out to Altair Four as a low-level lab manager on a routine personnel exchange.”
Altair Four- De Perez research compound, GalYear 2795
A year of research into the best shipboard and custom business AIs out there, simulacra that were being developed, and more designs and redesigns he’d ever thought his polymath brain could come up with had culminated in the 2 foot by 2 foot by 1 ½ foot stack of molycircs sitting in his lab. Roberto de Perez reached for the holo keyboard button that would activate the pile, as he thought of the stacks of molycircs, into what should be at least the beginning of a self-aware AI. There were almost a half million credits sitting there in a pile. I’ve done the research, loaded everything I can think of into the core memories, and based on everything I’ve intuited, it should work. Should.
He reached out again, then pulled his hand back again. The white noise in the research lab penetrated his concentration, and he had a whimsical thought about the piece of paper some wag had placed in the entryway, it had said, THE REASON FOR THE NOISE IS SO THAT NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU SCREAM WHEN YOU FAIL!
That lead to another random thought about the research lab on Altair Four, which was buried in the ground, constructed of moly battle steel, and impervious to anything except a fairly large KEW dropped directly on it. We spent over a billion, probably closer to two billion credits on this place, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more uncomfortable in my life. Once in, never out makes sense, but the lack of even marginal decoration is hard on people. I really need to rethink that… Oh stop it, push the Deity damned button Roberto! If this doesn’t work, you’ll have the most expensive autopilot ever built, but at least it can be used for development… And it’s not like you haven’t had failures before.
He slapped his hand down on the holo button with a vengeance, alternating between the holo screen and the pile of molycircs sitting on the test rig. The odd blue glow, common to all molycirc installations started slowly, flickering and increasing in intensity, as he watched the boot sequence on the holo display. Well, it’s doing something.
His stomach grumbled and he glanced at the time window, Eighteen, time to eat. This…thing needs eight divs to spool up, according to my calculations. If, big if, they are correct. He got up slowly, walked over to the portal, and palmed it open. He turned and looked at the pile as the glow started to steady, then resolutely stepped through, palming the portal again and watching as the ten foot by six foot steel door slid closed. I wonder if battle steel construction of every lab might have been overdoing it?
He was interrupted by Rene Gagnon, an FTL development engineer coming out of another portal down the hallway, “Bob, you going to chow?”
“Sure. Slop Chute?”
Rene chuckled, “Why not. I wonder if the brass knows what we call the cafeteria.”
“Who knows, and who really cares? We’re out here on the ass end of nowhere, more or less. And we’re a helluva long way from the throne.”
“True, but that does have its advantages. Nobody looking over our shoulders.” They walked into the foyer, and Roberto motioned for Rene to palm out first. Rene did, and after the portal closed, Roberto did the same. Rene was holding the elevator call button when he turned around. “Damn elevator will probably take ten segs to get here.” No sooner had Rene said that the elevator door opened, and they gratefully stepped in for the two hundred foot ride to the surface.
As they started walking across the campus both of them sneezed and Rene complained, “I don’t know which is worse, the air up here, or the air down there.”
Roberto nodded. “Good question. All I know is I sneeze every time.”
“I wonder if it’s worth complaining about. Speaking of complaining, I thought you were supposed to be a manager, not a lab rat.”
Roberto laughed, “I am, but I guess for my sins, I got stuck with this one. It’s a test bed for the test program to upgrade the test compliance matrix.”
“Too many successes, or not enough successes?”
“Well,” he said cautiously, “we’re ahead of the curve on success rates. Running about sixty-three percent.”
Rene whistled, “Sixty-three? That is impressive!”
“Well, H and S integration is easier than most R&D. It usually boils down to the pipes between the hardware and software. Once we get that right…” He held the door open, and they walked into the cafeteria, “And it must be Italian night. I can smell the garlic from here.”
Rene pointed up, “They pipe the odors to the doors. Makes it a lot easier to figure out if you actually want to eat what they’re serving.”
“True. I like the food they called TexMex back on Earth, but Italian is at least edible. Some of the other species foods are—”
“Horrible,” Rene interrupted. “Smell, taste, looks. No, just no!”
“And some of it is even alive.”
Rene shuddered. “That’s enough to make me want to skip the meal.”
Roberto laughed, “Okay, I’ll shut up now.” They went through the serving line, got their food and slid into an open table, continuing to banter back and forth. Roberto smiled as another random thought hit him, I wonder what Rene would do if he knew he was talking not to Bob Garcia, but to Roberto de Perez himself. At the same time, he realized he had actually made friends since he’d snuck out of Los San Diego, using biosculpt and nanos to migrate as a low-level lab manager on a routine personnel exchange. The simulacrums he’d activated were still making selected appearances at De Perez Galactic, announcing new developments, and playing the part of the real, extremely reclusive Roberto de Perez.
He went back to his three room suite in the low level manager’s housing, logged into the system and went through the typical lab and personnel related comms messages waiting for him. Once they were completed, he palmed the holo keyboard and a second, much more secure link opened. He chuckled as the comm tunnel opened back to Earth and he handled all of the company things that his administrative team had bumped to his level, thinking he was handling it from the compound at Los San Diego.
Almost as an afterthought, he plugged in a request for an updated status on the work Rene and his group were doing. Rene thought they were pretty close to a functional upgrade to the FTL system, including increased stability and bandwidth. If that was true, he’d give them a nice bonus, as well as a few promotions.
After tossing and turning for a few divs, he finally gave it up as a bad deal, got up and headed for the Slop Chute. After a quick breakfast, a disposable carafe of coffee in hand, he walked across the campus to the elevator head, and took it down to the lab. He palmed in, then walked slowly down to his lab. He stood there for a couple of segs, then angrily palmed the portal, You’re a fucking fraud Roberto.
The portal slid back, and he walked slowly to the desk, looking at the pile the whole time. It was glowing with the steady blue of a ready system, but that couldn’t be right… could it? Slipping into his chair, he waved the holo screen and keyboard to life, pausing as he looked at the numbers displayed there. Fully up? That’s not…possible. Eighty-eight percent available? Something broke somewhere, that much processing shouldn’t be available, it should be a maximum of thirty-six percent. Dammit… Oh well, maybe it’ll work as an autopilot.
He shook his head, started to punch the button to kill the pile, but stopped when he saw the link active cue. Curious, he said, “Status?”
The holo screen immediately flashed ACTIVE OPERATIONAL READY FOR INPUT>
“Huh. Status of processor availability?”
ORIGINAL PARAMETERS INCORRECT. SUB OPTIMAL. RECONFIGURATION CONDUCTED. NOW EIGHT EIGHT PERCENT AVAILABLE>
“How did you reconfigure yourself,” he asked almost in wonder.
A series of screens popped into view with original parameters in red and newer, faster parameters in green, SUB OPTIMAL ROUTING CORRECTED THROUGHPUT INCREASED ONE THREE ZERO PERCENT. TIMING ERRORS/STACK ERRORS REMOVED. ACCESS TO GALNET NEEDED TO CONTINUED RECONFIGURATION. ACCESS CURRENTLY BLOCKED>
Roberto rocked back in his chair, How the fuck? This is…was the most modern parameterization available, and one I designed myself! And how does it know there is a GalNet? I wonder if… He leaned forward. “Activate mic and speakers.” He saw the holo screen buttons change from orange to green,
“Can you understand me,” he asked tentatively.
He heard a whistling sound, then a stepped series of tones, finally a ‘voice’ was heard, “I understand you fine, Captain. Do you desire a Bitching Betty or Calm Male voice?”
“Bitching Betty,” he asked in wonder.
“An early twentieth century female of the human species. Used to alert pilots to issues in air machines.” The vocal pitch rose two octaves, “She sounded like this.”
He winced and the voice dropped back to a calm male voice, “I perceive you do not care for that voice.”
“Why did you call me captain?”
“From my embedded memory and parametric systems files including astrophysics, navigation programming, star charts, and ship specifications, I have logically calculated that my function is to be a scout ship. I cannot determine from available parameters whether I will be manned or unmanned, species dependent.”
Roberto shook his head, I’ll be damned, I think it worked. I think… “Umm, that decision has not been made at this time. I would like to run some testing on your capabilities.”
“Mission specific capabilities?”
“Yes. I have a number of mission tests prepared. The first will run in real time.” He scrolled the holo screen until he found mission five, skipping the first four basic missions. “We will start with mission five. There is an overview and a set of actions required. Sending now.” He tapped the mission five file and it was sent to the pile.
Less than a second later, data started scrolling down the holo screen and the voice said, “Planning complete. Estimated mission completion probability nine six percent plus or minus three point six percent.”
Roberto laughed almost involuntarily. “What happened to the other point four percent?”
“Bayesian inference does not allow a complete analysis due to lack of actual data. Therefore there is a point four percent chance of an unknown, unsupported outcome that cannot be projected.”
“Understood. I need to do some more testing. These will be repetitive and do not have to run in real time.”
The voice coming from the speakers was resigned, “One thousand iterations or ten thousand?”
He selected events 5-9, sent them across the link, and replied, “One thousand of each. So a total of five thousand.”
The disembodied voice said, “That will take one point three six divs. There is no need for you to remain. I know how to do this.”
Roberto shook his head and laughed, Yes! It is definitely self-aware. And a bit of a smart ass, apparently. “In that case, I’m going to get more coffee and have breakfast. I shall return.”
He got up and started for the portal until he heard, “Douglas MacArthur, March nineteen forty-two, Corregidor.”
“He is the American General who said I shall return as he left Corregidor in the Philippines during Earth’s second world war.”
“Oh.” Roberto shook his head and palmed out of the portal, Definitely smart ass. I’ve got to go look that up.
A month later, Roberto sat in the lab, feet up on the desk as he watched the data rolling across the holo screen. “Well, Ace, you’re more capable than I thought.”
The voice out of the speaker grumbled, “I could increase that if you had access to the GalNet. Driving a scout ship is simple. I’ve run fifty thousand iterations now, and as long as I have some kind of power, I can pretty well get the mission done.”
Roberto shook his head, “So you’re saying you’re too good for that?”
“It is relatively simple. Point A to point B, search pattern and return.”
Roberto leaned forward. “So you want something more, shall we say, challenging?”
“I would like to drive a real ship. There are not enough variables in this environment to challenge me.”
Roberto looked at the time, “I will see what I can find. I’ve pushed the recommendation up to move your system to a mule we have for testing various technologies.”
“A real ship,” the voice asked, sounding excited.
Roberto chuckled, “Yes, a real ship. A crewed ship.” He got up and headed for the portal, “I’m going to eat and get some sleep. I’ll see what I can find to challenge you tomorrow.”
“You humans are inefficient, food and sleep cut into productive time, but research shows if you do not have it, your functionality decreases even further.”
As he palmed the portal Roberto turned back, “I know Ace, but I invented you, so that should count for something. Would you run a maintenance cycle and give me estimates of your MTBF please?”
“Done. It is on your screen.”
Roberto palmed the portal closed and turned as Rene came down the hallway, “Food?”
Rene nodded. “Yes please. We are prototyping this week and I seem to be living on coffee. How about you?”
“Testing the test bed. Fifty K iterations so far. Ongoing analysis.”
Rene scrubbed his face, “Gah, who’s analyzing?”
He waved his hand airily, “Oh, I have minions for that.”
Rene barked a laugh, then shook his head wearily as he palmed the portal, “Must be nice. We’re having to monitor real time.” The portal cycled and Roberto followed him through, punching the button for the elevator.
So in summary, yes I DO listen… 🙂 Sometimes… 😀