SOS (part 4)

This is the fourth installment of my SOS story, the first of which can be read here

While trying to locate the single survivor to the wreckage of the Scintillating, Sam Foster, from the Tin Locust, encounters fifteen corpses and a... ghost?

I spun some yarn about my O-two reserves to Flora — or to whoever or whatever was talking to me on band eighty — and I almost raced back to the Locust.

Once back inside and safe, I debriefed with Val.

“There’s no doubt — the ID badge is perfectly legible, not turned over or dirty. It shines like it's just been polished. KESLER, Flora. And it’s hard to get any deader than she is, Val. Blue veins, blue lips, blue fingers, glassy eyes, putrefaction, the whole book. Who the hell was I talking to on band eighty?”

“Apparently you were chatting with Proteus, the Scintillating’s onboard computer. Or more precisely, to a process it is running.”

“What? Are you blowing a fuse too?”

“Calm down. I’ve finished downloading the ship’s log while you were on your way back, and everything’s in there. I told you earlier that the Scintillating runs on a Shabasch computer just like the Locust, right? Well, after the accident, that computer ran an emergency backup on a survival pod.”

“Come again?”

“The ship's power started failing while passengers were in their pods, undergoing stasis, so most didn’t even make it. Consequently, their pods shut down, leaving just enough power to get Flora into stasis, but she was dying fast from severe internal hemorrhage. The pod signaled Proteus about it. As Proteus was already running a simulation of theScintillating anyway for staff training purposes, it chose to take a copy of Flora's mind and placed it in a simulated survival room. It's been running her mind in real time, much like its own.”

“Bleep me. Didn’t even know a computer could do that.”

“Shabasch ones can, because unlike terrestrial machines, their structure is similar to that of a human brain.”

“Shit. Well, I guess now I’ve got to get back over there and unplug the whole thing.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Well as long as the wreck is transmitting that signal, other pilots are going to pick up on it eventually and come check out this spot for nothing, since there are no survivors. So I’ve got to go pull the plug on the onboard computer.”

“What? Don't you dare do that! DON’T YOU DARE, YOU HEAR ME?”

That stopped me in my tracks. Val, angry?

“Come on, Val, it’s just a machine that screwed up.”

“This is not a machine! That is a human being! Do you think that’s a machine? All right then, get back on band eighty and tell her that, and on top of it, tell her that you’re going to unplug her. What are you waiting for?”

“Val, what’s up with you? It’s not a human, it’s a copy, you just said it yourself! It’s a copy of a mind stored in a computer!”

“And what do you think I am? Follow through with your actions! Underneath this dashboard, there is a lever. The manual says that pulling it deactivates the high-level functions of the onboard computer. I say if you pull that lever, you kill me. Do you get that? So, since you’re in the mood to unplug computers, go ahead, look me in the eyes and murder your onboard computer!

So shouted Val, with her blond bob and her grey eyes throwing daggers at me from inside her display screen.

I was glued to the spot, eyes wide open and mouth agape, with no idea what to say. No idea what to think, either.

“Is that your so-called humanity? If you can show no remorse for deleting the mind of a woman who is human like you, then what should I possibly hope from you? The day you decide you’re done with the sound of my voice, will you unplug me without hesitation? Is that what I have to look forward to? That my last sight will be your remorseless hand pulling a circuit breaker?”

It was dawning on me that since we’d started flying together, I’d completely forgotten that Val was not made of flesh. Despite only seeing her on the ship’s screens and only hearing her through its speakers, and despite eating all my meals alone, in my own mind I’d always imagined her somewhere else in the Locust, at her own dashboard. We’d been friends for a long time. I mean, I'd considered her my friend—ah, shit. What a mess all of a sudden.

“B—but, Val, what else can we do? We can’t bring her aboard, can we?”

“No, we can't. My memory banks are barely sufficient for my own personality.”

“... I meant bring her physically on board. I didn’t even know you could transfer minds like that from computer to computer.”

“With Shabasch computers, you can. But the Locust isn’t the Scintillating. I have less than a tenth of Proteus’ computing capacity.”

“Er, OK. So... what can we do?”

“We can go back to your plan of thrusting the wreck into a slingshot orbit around Hawkins. This would buy enough time for a reconstruction team to fly over here. If you go back stat and take tissue samples on her corpse, they'll be able to grow a body from her own DNA, and transfer her mind back into it, which should reduce rejection risks. It'll take weeks, but the elliptic orbit decay should be longer.”

“But I can’t tell her I'll leave her there for weeks to go find reincarnation people. I don’t think she can handle it.”

“She’s in shock. If you leave her without assistance, she will break down. If you tell her what’s really going on, she will break down. In both cases, it will void any chances of transferring the mess of her mind anywhere.”

“So we can’t do squat.”

“Oh, there is something we can do, but I don’t think you’ll like it. You could stay there and keep her company while I would go get help.”

My ears flattened and every single hair on my body stood up. That isn’t as contradictory as it sounds.

Continue to part five