The Belly of the Beast (Part VIII of SkiFi)

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…?”

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