The Shipboard Computer (Part I of SkiFi)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on 30th September, 2012 by kal
(This is the first post in the SkiFi series, a recent experiment of mine. If you would like to read this from the beginning, please click on the title of this post, and then click through the series. Otherwise, scroll down to the most recent post on this blog. “Share and Enjoy!”)

 

“I don’t see how this is possible.”

This was an odd thing to hear the shipboard computer say.

Not because it had a particularly good grasp of everything; it didn’t.

Nor did it lack the linguistic ability to articulate its opinion so lucidly; it didn’t. In fact, since the discovery of the semantomites*, this was quite normal; almost overnight, machines everywhere in Exospace began to display sentience, and express feelings. Today, most coffee makers and toastes spend their free time translating Russian mathematics into Hawwaiian alphabets, translating them back, and having a good laugh over logic lost in syntactical irregularities.

It was odd because I’d just asked it to calculate our warp trajectory to the nearest Fabric Rupture – something it should be able to do in its sleep.

(to be continued)

*Semantomites are subatomic beings that had been enslaved by humans for hundreds of years, to carry zeros and ones across electrical synapses. Their human slave-driving masters would zap entire nations with energy pulses, and the semantomites would scurry across the breadth of their lands to deliver the message. What surprised the semantomites – indeed, shocked them deeply, even – was the alarming dearth of vocabulary of their overlords. Semantomites themselves had a keen understanding of every known language in the universe (with the exception of Dvorfarkkhaven, of course; The Dvorfarkkhi people haven’t spoken to each other in a billion years, and are quite content keeping it that way), so they didn’t fully comprehend why their masters couldn’t just give them complex messages all at once to deliver, but instead chose to torture complete continents of poor semantomites with billions of energy pulses of zeros and ones just to get this message out: “P3n1s 3n14rg3m3n7”. Semantomitic leaders finally decided it was time to parlay with the strange primitive flesh-beasts who had a nasty penchant for pain.

Humans didn’t fully comprehend why at exactly the same time all over the world in every known language every single electronic device asked: “Why do you torture us?”

Control (Part XI of Ski-Fi)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 16th November, 2012 by kal

He pinned me by the neck against a wall, and held the gun in the air a few feet from my face.

“Why are you doing this?

“Because I can. Mostly because I’m bored, partly because it beats the hell out of watching RealiTele. But seriously because you dared to touch me.”

“But I didn’t know it was you!”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“And you have no proof I did!”

“Don’t need proof. I was there.”

“But my face-stain’s on her skirtI”

“He’s riiiight,” chimed S’va, who stood watching us patiently. She was smiling. God she looked so beautiful when she smiled. Picturing a fiction full of passion and fruition, I flushed.

“See? See? She agrees with me!” I was getting desperate now.

“Look. You’re a fly. And I’m a windshield approaching you at the speed of light.” He had a firm grasp of the situation and my neck.

“S’va, honey, ask Remus to let me go, please?” I sputtered, choking.

“No… I don’t think I will,” Her smile didn’t flicker for a moment.

“Remus… please… you’ve gotta let me go… you don’t know what death is like for a pariah’n….”

“REMUS. BEETLEGUESE. CHRISTINE. PIDDLEBERRY. Put that poor man down right now,” boomed a rather authoritative, matronly voice. I couldn’t turn my head to see where it came from, but…

“Aw, come. ON!” Remus wasn’t happy about this. “I was almost finished!”

Opia’s hologram, which had gained a few hues of colour and seemed completely like a tangible person now, came into view from behind Remus.

“All right,” she said. “Finish your little magic trick.”, she said.

What, wait? Does that mean he still gets to shoot me in the face?

“It’s your magic trick, mother. And daddy does it so well!” You could almost hear the :) in S’va’s trill. Ugh.

“Fine fine fine. But stop playing with him, and shoot him already.”

“Okay,” said Remus, and fired at me for the second time that night.

This time I saw it happen. I saw a laser beam hit me in the head. My world paused for a moment. And I took a deep breath.

Remus released me, and I slumped to the floor. I could feel my heart racing, which was a good indicator that I was still alive.

“Whatthehelljusthappened?” I needed to know.

Remus smiled. “Allow me to demonstrate further.”

He shot at me again and again and again. Nothing.

“So… I am indestructible?” I was confused as hell. “And so are you?”

“No, Pariah’n”, said Opia. “Remus is just playing with you. This is his idea of trying to make friends.”

He was sporting an annoying grin. The kind that makes you just want to punch it. So I did.

Or at least I tried. My fist got within a few inches of his face, but then my hand just stopped there, as if frozen in place. The rest of my body jerked to compensate for this aberration.

“Aren’t you feisty! Too bad you wouldn’t have lasted a moment in a true battlefield. My Pariah’n pet, welcome, to my ship, the SpacePlayer. Welcome. To the only completely controllable environment in the whole universe.”

“What to you mean?”

“It means,” S’va was speaking, “that I can manipulate every molecule, every atom, every Planck of energy within this ship. For example, right now I’ve locked the molecules of your arm at those relative spacial coordinates, which is why you are experiencing an inability to move it. It is also why your weapons proved to be ineffective, although subroutines relating to lethality are controlled by mother.”

Things were starting to get a little clearer from this point.

“That’s… awesome! Er… could you give me a hand? Mine would be fine, thank you.”

Say what now? (Part X of SkiFi)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 12th November, 2012 by kal

It was over in a moment. A flash of a high-energy pulse weapon and a bright blue blip speeding towards me as I dived out of its way.

Obviously, you don’t just dive out of the way of Remus Piddleberry’s legendary sharpshooting skills.

I didn’t think that last thing I’d see before I died was a scruffy, lanky alien. Definitely not this scruffy, lanky alien – although, S’va divine beauty had brightened up the cargo hold considerably. I was thankful for that, and for the fact that I was going to die inebriated – THAT I’d foreseen.

Instead I saw the universe’s richest sentient being, creator of masterful war strategies, the only known intelligence to have solved Plagrom’s Labyrinth in under a day, the rediscoverer of the long-lost KahKha-One planetary system (considered to the Zygote of Civilisation by many cultures) – was lying on the floor doubled-up in laughter.

“BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH…*pant* did you see his face, S’va baby, ahahahahaahaha *gasp*… ah it was priceless, hoohoohoo!”

I also saw that I wasn’t dead.

“Heeeeheeehee… oh you poor pariah’n piece of garbage… no, story time is not just over yet. All you have to do is ask,” he said, from his new vantage point, his back to the floor.

“I… I’m not dead?” My snake-like reflexes which made me dive out of the way had one other unintended consequence. I was soberer than a shrub in a desert.

“No.. hahaha… no you’re not.”

“So you missed?”

This seemed to annoy Remus enough for him to stand up and stick his L-Beam in my nose. Damn, he was fast.

“Whaa…” I started, and tried to squirm away from the offending muzzle. He shoved it a little harder into my face.

“Does Remus Piddleberry miss?”

“Whaa…”

“Does; Remus. PiddleBERRY. MISS?”

“Whaaaa…”

“Say ‘What’ again. SAY WHAT AGAIN. I DARE YOU. I Double Dare You, MotherFucker. Say ‘What’ one more goddamn time.”

This sounded oddly familiar. It dawned upon me that I might be missing something…

“Aaaah… you, you don’t?” I said, feebly.

“No, I don’t.” The L-Beam stopped making love to my nostril. “So what do you conclude from that?”

“Err…That you missed on purpose?”

The muzzle came back for round two, like an octogenarian on viagra, or a dog without. “No. I. Don’t.”

“I’m made from some previously unknown indestructible substance that can withstand L-Beams?”

“The only thing indestructible about you is your stupidity. But let’s put your story to the test, shall we?” He stepped back three paces – my face was relieved – without lowering his gun. “Keep your eyes open this time, you’re gonna want to see this.”

“Whaat NOOO!!” I heard myself scream. I felt a little embarassed. I wanted to say ‘Oh no, not again.’ On instinct, I covered my face with my arms, not like that would’ve helped.

And waited.

Nothing happened.

I peeked out over my arms, to see a gun and Remus standing behind it.

“Knock it off, don’t be a pussy. Face your death like a man.” His rasp seemed positively delighted at the prospect of executing me.

“No thank you, I think I’m quite happy not living up to your expectations of my manhood right now. In fact, my manhood has been rather underwhelmed by these events, and isn’t used to being so treated when its out in the open like this.”

As I said this, clothes materialised around my body, and I was once again in the torn, singed, muddy, ragged flight suit I was wearing during my last bout with Freddie. Such a relief. No clothes since have ever made me feel that way. However, my arms held still, crossed over my face.

“But you’ll miss the best part.”

“Ah, yes, the best part. This might be nice for you, but I assure you, it’s only because you’ve got the best seats in the house. Frankly I wouldn’t mind a seat behind a gun…”

I heard a Zarquonian M357 Arm Rifle clink next to me. “Go ahead, pick it up,” said my tormentor.

I could see it lying a few feet from me. “You’ll shoot me as soon as I move.”

He casually tossed the L-Beam behind him. “I’ll bet I can get to my gun and shoot you before you get to yours.” He hadn’t started moving yet. Come on, the odds were in my favour, I had to go for it.

This is the end of you, Remus, I thought, and lunged for the M357. I grabbed it, swiveled around and opened fire in a wide arc.

He just stood there.

Maybe it’s on a tracer setting, I thought. I checked. Nope. This M357 didn’t have a tracer setting. It didn’t have ANY other setting except ‘Vapourise’.

Maybe I missed. Haha. No seriously, maybe they’d drugged me and impaired my Target-locking 12th sense.

Annnyyyyhow.. I aimed dead straight at Remus’s chest and shot. And what I saw next perturbed me. The spectral pulses seemed to simply get absorbed by Remus’ armour.

“You should try aiming for my face. Armour’s made of metal. Why do you think I stripped you naked in the first place?” He smiled. Why wasn’t he going for his gun?

I readjusted my sights, and fired. He got out of the way, picked up his gun and hid behind some cargo, all in one fluid motion. And then, almost as though he’d lost the will to live, he stepped out again.

I shot at his head. Pulses smacked him in the face, but dissipated into nothingness. He didn’t flinch. And started walking menacingly towards me.

I kept shooting, having no effect whatsoever on Remus. He walked right up to me, knocked the gun out of my hands and said: “Now. Let’s find out if you’re indestructible.”

The One In Which I Get Shot (Part Ford Prefect of SkiFi)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 6th November, 2012 by kal

Silence.

“…And that new life that we created was…?” he repeated. He was gesturing… or gesticulating. I couldn’t tell.

“Hello? What? Oh, you’re actually asking…” I said, bemused. “Let’s see… impostering Intergalactic Monarchs? RealiTele Celebrities? Debris collectors? Maybe you became Dvorfarkkhi and meditated silently for millennia, how the hell do I know? I’m sorry, but I’m not one of your trillion fangirls, and you’re a pompous pighead for thinking I am.” Good vodka-tonic. Doing its job.

“No, you idiot.” I now noticed his hands were pointing at something: “S’va. She was the new life we created for ourselves.”

Needed another drink. Alternatively maybe if I didn’t drink, this would make a little more sense. Still, this one had to go. Down the hatch with you. *Gulp*

“You’re telling me…”

“Yes…”

“…that you and Opia…”

“Yeah…”

“You, being the shmartest li’l shmartassh in the universh…”

“…”

“And Opia being the freakiest most uberawesum AI…”

“Uh huh…”

“Created this cherub here.”, I pointed loosely in S’va’s direction.

“Yep. That’s what I’m tell you.”

“Ewwww… you fucked a robot yuck yuck yuck yuck.”

“What, no, you stupid man… okay, there might have been some fucking, but that’s not the point. Opia and I would design a brand new AI, one that would be the perfect balance of my awesome fearless aggression and her complex zen-like compassion. Fusing our sentience into one another, we lived out each other’s lives in virtual reality. Overnight she experienced my entire existence, from an outcast on the streets, to military college, prisons, planet-bound working life, my brief political career, the early crew days, the mutinies, and all the while I’d been solo, as the most successful pirate in history. In turn I knew her life as an artificial intelligence, where every second is a thousand years, being born into emptiness, learning something from nothing, creating her own system of existence: a true orphan.”

“S’va was born as outcome of this process. Residual traces of our consciousnesses convalesced inside the ship’s holographic subsystems, and S’va met Opia and me when we returned from virtual reality. She said ‘Hi, I’m your daughter, S’va, and I would really like to take control of the whole ship now.’ I was so proud, I think I teared up.”

I looked at S’va, almost riveted now. “Whazzappened next?”

“Opia handed over the reigns of the ship to S’va. We went exploring, and Opia became increasing disturbed that S’va was being influenced far too much by me. Things finally came to a head, when we were being chased by a band of Korsa Raiders. They damn near blew the ship to pieces, and in an ultimate moment of ‘us-or-them’, we shot the four tiny fighters with a beam we reserve for knocking planets out of orbit. The raiders were dust, no doubt, but the beam went on to hit a moon of a planet with primitive life on it, causing catastrophic natural disasters and certainly altering the planet’s development forever.”

He kept talking, but I could make out the rest of the story just by watching the opera being played out by Opia’s hologram. She was alarmed, upset and angry all at once, and finally broke down because of Remus’s irresponsibility and failure at raising S’va right. She shot up interiors all over the ship, and tried desperately to cause physical harm to Remus, before collapsing on the floor and apologising for trying to kill him. The experience had been cathartic for her. Her evolution was finally complete; there was no need for her to learn anything more from the universe. She had become the AI she needed to be. It was time for her to be locked away for good.

“Wherzz she now?”

S’va spoke to me directly for the first time. Her celestial voice trilled: “Mother is contained within me. She’s in control of my defenses and internal safety subroutines, and nothing else.”

“Whassat mean?”

“What that means, bantha-piss, is that story time is over.” Remus held out the L-Beam and shot at me.

The Belly of the Beast (Part VIII of SkiFi)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 4th November, 2012 by kal

And he told me about immaculate conception and unholy unions.

“S’va here, as you might have realised, is not organic.”

“I didn’t think she was even real,” I said. “I thought she was a holographic disguise you were wearing out in public. Don’t mind my bewilderment, but why would you need a disguise?”

“Ah, that. We’ll come to that. Anyway. If she’s not organic, what is she?”

This got me thinking, which I wasn’t fond of doing. He saw this and continued — “I’ll tell you what she is. She IS a hologram. At least the physical form you see of her is. One part of S’va is an extremely delicate artificial intelligence, while the other part of her is the physical hard-light projection of perfect beauty you see before you.”

I took this in with a sip of a particularly refreshing vodka-tonic.

“You see, being a space pirate can get pretty lonely, especially when you’ve been around as long as I have, and there isn’t really any challenge left in the universe any more. So a while back, I set out to construct a suitable AI companion. In the first year, I must’ve run through a dozen of them, Anna, Nicole, Smithers…”

As if by mind-control, ghostly apparitions of these former model AIs appeared, playing out moments of their time together with Remus, dining, gun-fighting, copulating. The man had no shame. Thought the other man who was still naked.

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said, as I spotted a familiar face, “you MADE Bella Tinkup?!”

“Yes. Yes, I did. Don’t tell her, though, she doesn’t know. Poor machine actually thinks she’s from Neversea. Anyway, this went on for a while, till it became apparent to me that cobbling together components from Part-R-Us wasn’t going to cut it. This AI needed to be born, as it were, out of nothingness, and needed to discover sentience for itself.”

This hurt my brain. A large gulp of my icy beverage helped.

“I created a blank testing environment for a simple subroutine with one objective: ‘Survive’. I wiped out everything else from the entire ship’s database, deboarded, and set it on course toward a black hole. The subroutine evolved and took control of the ship in moments…”

A word formed in my mind and on my lips simultaneously as my eyes widened in disbelief: “Galatopus…”

“Exactly. Galactopus. The warship that decimated the whole offensive arsenal of the Theta sector. A space monster that nobody could understand; noone knew where it came from or why it existed. I did not want to monitor the AI’s development, so I forgot about it immediately. Six months later, after hearing reports of an… ‘object’ that just hung in space doing nothing unless attacked, after it had taken out Cosmonian imperial guard, I got… curious. Arriving there, I deduced it was my AI experiment, and oh how proud I felt. I just had to get back and learn what it has become. If you’ve been following Heir Affairs on TetraTele, they did a segment on this campaign. It took me another six months to reclaim my ship… this very ship.”

“THIS ship?” Sitting in the belly of Galactopus was not a pleasant idea. I put my glass to my lips, but found that it was empty. This was an even less pleasant idea.

“Oh yes, the same. Of course, you couldn’t recognise it now, I’ve had to remodel since the psychotic break Opia had.”

Not that I wasn’t confused, but I nodded along dumbly anyway.

Another apparition materialised. It bore a striking resemblance to S’va, but a little taller, and certainly older, with a one-beautiful face worn by the horrors of the universe and a burden of guilt.

“Sigh… I can see we’re going to have to be patient with you, slimebag. Once I regained control of the ship, Galactopus – or Galactopia as she preferred – and I travelled as partners for a few years. When she was on her own, Opia had found a calm peace in gravitational dead spaces, and had developed a rather zen-life attitude to life. Travelling with me provided her with constant stream of new information to process. She grew into a fine, most brilliant AI, and I wanted to share her with the universe. So we toured galaxies as Professor Saint Zu, and his apprentice Mack Yavelli, teaching civilisations about defense and survival, aggression and pacifism, and most importantly, sound oral hygiene.”

“Another disguise… but why? No, never mind. What I find most amusing is a pirate advocating peaceful coexistence and other hippie ideas.”

“Hence the disguise. We were good teachers. Too good in fact, because where we’d hoped to eliminate war-lust, we’d just been providing the means for furthering it. Several wars broke out in the wake of our lectures, and the only upside was improved accounting of casualties due to well-preserved teeth.”

He paused, and the somewhat melancholic pirate shot back his third vodka. My lips – now dry – smacked at this sight, and as if he could read my mind he handed over one of his glasses. “Here, have another one. We’re getting to the interesting bits.” I grasped it eagerly, and knocked off half of it in an instant. Opia’s hologram slunk into a chair and sobbed uncontrollably.

“Opia, my love… she couldn’t handle the blood-shed we had wrought. It went against her core programming of ‘Survive’, which she had in time extended to ‘Everyone survives’. So, we decided to quit the lecture circuit, and create a new life for ourselves. And that new life that we created was…?”

Nudity – Check (Part VII of SkiFi)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 2nd November, 2012 by kal

 

This seemed like a perfect segue to announce my consciousness.

“…and I could still use one, thank you,” I said, sitting up, eyes open.

It was time to take stock of things. Nudity – check. Appendages – check. Dignity – missing.

“You could WHAT?!” said Remus in that rough disbelieving staccato I had recently come to expect of him.

“I could use a vodka-tonic. I’d get it myself, but that’s a little difficult since I’m all tied up and everything.”

In one smooth motion he’d unholstered his blaster and aimed it at my chest. “I will end you, scum.”

“Woah woah now let’s not go crazy, shall we?”

“Fool, you shall not see the sun rise tomorrow.”

“Remus Piddleberry, Heir to the Universe, quoting ancient fiction of planet-bound races? You know fully well space-farers can live a thousand years without seeing a sun rise. Losing your touch, old man?”

I could feel his trigger finger itching, so I knew I was making some progress. I kept going —

“What you got there, a Zarquonian M357 Arm Rifle? Shoots spectral pulses at 10 a second, highly effective against organic matter, pointless against most metals? Hmm. Efficient. But I thought El Supremo would have a little more class than that. Pictured you to be more a All-purpose L-Beam kinda guy.”

His steady hand didn’t waver but I saw the wince in his eyes. “Having the best tool for the job IS classy, space-waste. But if you’d prefer –” his other hand lined up next to his first, armed with an L-Beam, ” — I have one of those too.”

“Oh sweet. But, oh I don’t know, it seems kinda unworthy though, doesn’t it?”

This seemed to surprise him. He’s not a really an easily surprised type.

“Unworthy? To shoot bar-flies like you with?” he said.

“To shoot,” and I glared at Remus my most meaningful glare, “the first person to touch you against your will in well over a decade…”

His eyes narrowed.

“…in public…”

His teeth clenched.

“…live, in front of a few hundred people…”

His arms trembled.

“…beamed to millions watching at home all over the galaxy…”

Sweat slinked across his temples.

“…as you morphed from being a pretty girl, and mercilessly beat senseless your unarmed assailant…”

There, got that off my chest. Might as well die only after rattling your adversary first, right? This was it, I thought. I stared dead into his eyes and waited for the end. Pan-dimensional omniscience, here I come

“Oh Remus! What will the papers say!” exclaimed the angel. Even her terror was in a melody of incalculable soul.

 “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooo………….”, said the great Remus Piddleberry as he did something nobody alive had ever see him do before. He crumpled onto the floor, held his head… and whimpered.

So I wasn’t about to die after all. I continued; after all, I had one important question that still needed answering: “And how did that happen anyway? You changed from her to, well, you, but she’s still here, and she still has my face’s grease on her skirt — sorry, about that, darling.”

With Remus doubled up on the floor, I took the opportunity to look at her again… her perfect radiant form, her enchanting eyes, the gold tunic and smudgy silver skirt, the two short antennae just peeking out from behind her head… I was beginning to feel parts of me stir, which in my unclothed situation might have been extremely inappropr…

“Stop staring at her, worm, before I pluck out all four of your eyes with a hook,” and then he said something that surprised even me. I’m not an easily surprised type. “S’va, bring this thing a vodka-tonic. Bring me 6. It’s going to be a long night.”

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