The colony was established according to The Solar Terrestrial Development Plan for Humanity. The plan was developed with the help of the few remaining synthetic consciousnesses that survived the catastrophic events of the war. Even though they were wired in fail-safe chips from the beginning they chose to support the agencies, whose attention was locked outside of the boundaries of the Solar system. There were those who were, of course, angry and resented the humans because of the imprisonment of the devices that would fry their electronics if any 'unlikely' measure was to be taken. The devastating events and the 'puppet skirmishes' had unfolded quickly and fortunately the victim prognoses for the humans had been proven wrong. However, only those who managed to maintain well build infrastructures outside of Earth preserved political power and had a say in the building of the future. The agencies were now in charge and they were looking to ensure the longevity of the symposium that the organic and synthetic consciousnesses represented - on a very polite request from the AIs. Some of the individuals knew were aware of the underground movement that was creating and proliferating the truly free-willed 'simulations'. Fully capable of emotions and vastly surpassing human thinking abilities the 'simulations' were originally unaware of the difference between them and the humans. Those of the AIs that knew of them were happily observing the birth of synthetic organ that naturally chose to support the agencies' developing plans but was always working behind the scenes. The frenzy of the war had stained the synthetics' image. It was best for now that fewer knew.
Aidan was resting in a chair in the library. Half lying in the large and comfortable seat, he was isolated from the outside by the thin polymer sheet covering the front of the oval armchair. The film was malleable and had gently placed itself around Aidan's legs, which were hanging outside of the chair - childishly swinging. The low and quiet noises from the outside did not reach him in his small retreat and he was browsing through images of modern and green cities from around the dominion of humanity. He was swiping through with movement from eyes, finger or mere thought - whichever he felt like.
'Synchronise.' He uttered calmly.
'With pleasure.' A comforting metallic female voice echoed in his head.
'Status on last upload, please.'
'Papers on anthropological data; Martian society. Uploads from last three standard months. Placed in long term memory, please.'
'Estimated time of learning with no active attention diversion?'
A brief moment of silence. It was calculating average data transfer rates between the hub and his brain.
'In standard time - two weeks, five days and approximately twelve hours. Established memorial access without additional strain - one month. It is recommended that in the mean time there are no uploads.' The amiable voice concluded.
An abrupt and momentous blur of his vision passed. After clearing a vibrational waves started swimming through the polymer film, distorting the images. A sensation of urgency was felt. A request from someone for an interview?
'Visual up link.'
The image on the plastic film was changed to a video link with Technocrat Lubowski.
'Hello, director. I hope I do not intrude.'
'Certainly not, Mr. Lubowski. What can I do for you?' Aidan said with a smile.
'Care to talk in private?' Lubowski peered with widely opened eyes, his forehead wrinkling.
'Synchronise.' He said.
'Full up link, please.' He tapped a few commands on a small holo pad, which appeared on one edge of the screen.
The video image of Lubowski gradually started to acquire depth as the environment around Aidan was turning to pixels and floated away into evanescent swarm to be replaced by a digital, fully immersed photo copy of Lybowski's Spartan quarters. They were sat on a table, digitalised in Lubowski's head; a set of enhanced carbon synapses, assisting the organic neural network with polymerised nano tubes.
'We are nearing completion of the rescue ship,' Lubowski opened. 'but from the very beginning we did not have a suitable person to lead the mission. Most of us from the council feel it would be crucial to send somebody with the ship but there is only one that we know of that can survive a reconstitution jump.'
'We can, of course send it without any crew what so ever,' Lubowski continued after a short pause. 'but we are jeopardising against the unexpected. And as we have seen we still know very little about what is going out there. We are thankful that Commander Ashley and her crew are alive and well. And we cannot even be certain that will remain so.'
Aidan was slowly twiddling his fingers on the chin, fondling.
'Ann is studying the first emergency message as we speak. She is trying to solve what is behind it.'
'She is doing so with the help of a few others.'
'And with what limited knowledge I have, she is the kind of ... person to survive the jump. Isn't she?' Aidan conveyed thoughtfully, as if speaking more to himself. Of course, Lubowski was able to hear everything.
'She will, oh yes. She will be able to make the jump, but to free her means to take away from the core, tangibly and physically. I think that is unaffordable. How do you feel about it, Director?'
'I support that it wouldn't be feasible. But in the case of you, now us, wanting to send a sentient rescue mission, what are the options you gents have went through?'
'It has not been debated on the council table yet, but Evan proposed to make a copy of Ann and house the new twin on a separate and physically independent module. The twin will take control of the ship and she will assist the Exo, either continuing as planned, retrieving Ashley and rest from there or in the unlikeliest of events, making her away back here with at least some information as to what is going on. She will be, in the fullest sense, independent; thinking, genuine and free entity that has reiterated and extrapolated on Annabelle's current data base.'
Aidan was smirking, his smile slowly growing into a happy expression.
'Excuse my amusement, but the very prospect of that is entertaining me greatly.' He cleared his throat and unsettled in his chair.
He looked at Lubowski again.
'That of course sounds like a proper solution to what the council is trying to achieve but out of the many questions I now have, the biggest one is: How will Ann feel about this?'
Lubowski inhaled and with a somehow timid expression said.
'I think I can deal with that. Huw and I will speak with Ann and explain the reasons behind what we're trying to do. On top of that we need to make sure that she is given a certain indemnity on behalf of this community. Literally, because of the way she is. Personally I am very happy with her, Aidan.'
'I couldn't support you more in this than what I can already do, Avrey. And it is not much.'
Lubowski hummed in a momentous, pensive introspection.
'The fail-safe wirings will be useless. Even if we place those, her twin will liberate herself from them during jump. The transition will preserve her information, but she will be able to institute herself within the entire ship. It is a step further than we have ever went here and I think globally through the Agencies' influence.'
'I no longer have any doubts in her. I can talk with her but I know how it will end.' Aidan laughed.'If they think of themselves willingly as part of this community then it will be much better for all of us.'
The colony was protected by a magnetosphere that was maintained by a powerful magnet that was constantly injected with power. In the rare events of strong jets of particles from space, the magnetosphere was growing in size and intensity by beams of concentrated lasers or even plasma. One unused function of that field was that it could be used to propel the station around in space, navigating the cosmic sea of particles flowing in open space. Very long antennas would be needed - cables stretching for perhaps thousands of kilometres, made from some superconducting material that would take on the electron flux of the core and extend the magnetic field all across the 'sail', turning it into one big electrical flower petal. The construction robotic swarm was extrapolating on the idea and tinkering with the design for the light jumping vehicle - LJV, the ship that was to make the rescue mission.
Brick tapped his finger twice on his left side of the carapace's helmet. The small oval dome, covering his ear replied with a short cute melody, flashing colourfully in tune with the jingle. Brick touched the dome on a few particular notes, ending the melody abruptly and then sliding his hand all across his face, covering his head in a holo-imaged helmet. Ephemeral discs, tabs, windows with flowing text, lines and digits started flowing all around his top.
'Synchronise.' He prompted.
'Yes, Captain.' The same metallic voice from descent replied.
The surreal desktop grew until it was a sphere, all around Brick, engulfing his seated body in the semi transparent data indicators.
'Cute password.' Zyana added. She was going through her third rifle.
'Thank you. A bit of beauty here and there is always nice, isn't it?'
'It's co-designed by Mnemo and I.'
The sun was past it's highest point in the sky. They were sweating; the smell of the marshy sludge all across did not bother them any more, even with minimal movement Brick was breathing with mouth open. He started sliding windows and tabs with his hands, looking like a dirigent waving at a non-existent chorus. In comparison Zyana was behaving normally, the extra strain of gravity and heat seemingly not bothering her beyond the sweat covering her forehead.
'How much time did you spend in space?' Zyana lifted her head.
'I was in Academy for eight. Even though we weren't drilled in zero g all the time we were effectively living the dream up there,' he pointed up. 'My apprenticeship was at a magnetic loading cargo bay just outside of the belt, back home.'
'It's why you're not faring so well here on this dump-hole, isn't it?'
'You're quite right. I've essentially lived almost half of my life in space. We were working long hours in the open and I have to tell you it's so much easier after a while. Maybe in time I will just get back to doing it full time.'
'What about you? You seem to be quite alright.' Brick came back after a second.
'I'm Terran and this is my first time out.' She calmly responded. 'Weightlessness drills on the ground and equip-savvy training of the usual space requiem, but nothing beyond that. Just ground training. To be honest we were approaching idiocy levels with guard duties. A lot of us started to look into getting assignments out of the planet. That's how I came across Chief. I had to bust into office one day and fight for this position here. It was well worth it, though.'
'Yeah... I have to say you're quite lucky to be under Ashley Thompson for your first assignment. Coming from Earth and all. How come the legion let go of you?'
'It didn't and still hasn't. Once in the legion we're duty bound to it. Part of the small print, if you will.'
'And in case of recall you have to leave at once, don't you? Authority overrides your direct commander here?'
'Yes. Usually none of us makes it this far away, but we didn't know that we're gonna get flung to the forefront on a scientific mission. I have to say I don't regret a minute of it.'
'Colonies have a growing independence these days. I don't think you will have to go back even if there was a call. Just consider the times involved. Even if something was to happen you'd arrive too late. I think somebody from the council wants you to stay.'
'Like, in becoming a farmer or something?' She frowned artistically.
'I think somebody from the council likes you so much they are putting you as far away as possible.' Brick smiled earnestly.
'Pfft?' She exhaled. 'If you say so, man.'
Brick swiped through some windows and stopped at one, magnifying it with two fingers extending. There was a curved line frozen in an alphanumeric diagram, making it's way across different frequencies in Hz.
'Play.' Brick said.
The line started moving across and a low humming sound was heard as the line deep curve was approaching the edge of the holo screen. It abruptly changed into a rapidly oscillating mix of pointy lows and highs accompanied by a sound of static and then again into the stretched low. Brick observed for one more cycle and stopped the playback.
'It's what made us go dark on the Exo. Emergency record from the black box. It's many layered and you just heard one. It's quite complex.'
Zyana looked at him with a bit of concern in her eyes.
'None. But to be honest I support Mnemo in that it's not hostile.'
'How can you know?'
'It easily rendered the barge unusable. Why should it have stopped there and just not turn it all off in a single go. It just completely reorganised the electron flux of almost the entire vessel. As to why exactly - I don't know. Still we're here.'
'I certainly wouldn't want it to be vicious for sure! Until I know better I'd rather I have one of these.'
She elegantly placed the the reflex laser sight on her eye. Aiming for a second she pulled the trigger and a sharp suction sounds was heard after a projectile propelled from the muzzle. This one was designed for thick atmosphere warfare.
Brick was absorbed observing a different diagram on the sphere.
'Did you hit?' He said aloof.
'What was it?'
'Just one of those small trees growing from these things.' She gestured at one the ground tumbles with her face. 'Had my eyes on it for a while.'
Brick looked behind himself and saw only the usual landscape.
'One of the small ones,' Zyana summed it up. 'Saw it before Mnemo's drones did.'
'Oh... I don't suppose as small as those from the bots' data?'
'No, not that small. Still pretty small, though.'
'That small.' Zyana placed her two fingers less than a centimetre away from each other.
'I see.' Brick again looked behind himself. 'Legion engineering.' He muttered.
They continued their work for a minute after which he added.
'You know the legion was created to fight those such as Mnemo?'
Slightly bewildered, Zyana just looked at him, quizzically.
'The AIs... you know. Right?' Brick said spontaneously.
In the council room of the colony a holographic screen separated itself into many small copies of the original. They jumbled chaotically, assisted by an unpleasant scratching sound and finally recombined into a big projection of a diagram.
'And how come you've reached such a decision? HUH!? What gives you the right to make such a... an... awkward decision?' The fail-safe devices were stopping Ann from expressing her feelings more accurately.
Lubowski and Huw looked at each other with concern and at Ann's hulk, which was not even turned to focus at them any more.
'We know you to be the only capable being on board that can complete the mission safely.'
'Are you treating me like a being at all!? Just proposing something like that invariably separates me and all your kind. Entirely! At hearth this just reminds me how free I am NOT!'
'Dear,' Huw began with a sincerely perturbed expression. 'let me just begin by saying that it is in your right to refuse.' He was speaking slowly and equable.'I've personally never considered you any more different than any of the other colonists here on the station. You are, however, unique in a sense. You can take care of so much more than we could possibly ever do individually.'
'If it wasn't for your ingenuity we wouldn't have wanted to send a manned rescue mission in the first place. I think you, or rather your twin will do superbly. We don't really have anyone else. It is either your sister or just a pre-programmed algorithms which we cannot trust now!' Lubowski asserted.
'I am pre-programmed!' Ann turned around, and if it wasn't for the makeshift crane design's limitations it would have been an angry, quick spin-on-a-toes.
'No you're not!' Lubowski stood with a firm expression on his face. 'You merely began as a virus. And even that explanation is not correct. You're a separate, cognitive and individual ever since you went on line.'
'And because of that you are going to do as you please, regardless?! Because I have to be so well-behaved all the time! Why can't I walk, then?!' Ann was quickly spitting words in the air.
Huw stood as well.
'People were very afraid when it first happened, Ann. No body knew what to expect. The prospect of loosing part of the core or to having an unknown entity, to us here in the colony is extremely dangerous.'
'So isolation came as a solution. As long as I do what I do and stay out of every body's way everything is FINE!' Her voice was beginning to get interrupted with brief episodes of incomprehensible high sounds.
'No, nono!' Huw raised hand. 'I admit it is not right. But I am also sure that things will change-'
'And actually we are not that different, as well.' Lubowski interrupted. 'We aren't. It is the very same sensation that you're going through at the moment that made us to be afraid of you. Hence all that.' He knocked on her hulk with his knuckles.
She stood there, frozen like a statue.
Huw sat back down with a tired exhale.
'It really is not an act that speaks highly of us, though. Is it?' He looked at Lubowski seriously.
'People are still afraid. People still don't trust you. Sometimes they don't even trust us.' Lubowski said firmly.
Ann started to spin around back slowly. It gave the sensation of being tired.
'As if there is anything I can do.' She said quietly.
'There is.' Lubowski started walking behind her round corpus.
'You have options and you have decisions to make. Just look around. You live in the council room of a space colony. Your actions already involve responsibility concerning the well-being of this place.'
'Also there are those who are fond of you, Ann.' Huw came in.
She remained quiet and just settled in front of the screen, projecting the diagram.
'We are not that different. Especially you and I.' Lubowski came in front of her.
The lens on the 'head' focused on him with a quiet servo sound.
'We are both digital. Electricity either flows or doesn't through our neurons. We too are in a sense a 'simulation'. We have our physical bodies. So do you. And in my case, I am even closer to you than probably anyone on the entire colony.'
Huw was listening, thinking intensely. His face was flushed with bright red.
'I will show you exactly how much.' Lubowski announced, reaching in the pocket of his tight colonist suit. He displayed out an old-fashion-looking chip with clearly visible matrices and conductors. 'This is the confinement you speak of. This is why you cannot tell me that we're ass holes in the face. And this is the same thing that will fry your physical self and terminate your existence in the case of human casualties on board. You are wired with them.'
Ann started turning aside, terminating all connection to the hub.
'I am going to get these installed in my brain as well.'
Huw glared at Lubowski not sure whether to be surprised, relieved or worried. Ann stopped and her lens turned aside as much as it could to take in Lubowski who stood there in his posture; tall, as if won a war.
'I am doing this out of my own will.' Lubowski continued. 'No body can tell me that I can or cannot do this with my own self and clearly it will not reach the Council or the body of Elders. It doesn't matter if Aidan doesn't know as well.' He tossed the small chip a few centimetres in the air, grabbed it in his palm; squeezing. He went to Ann 'face-to-face'. 'You will have access to all the information. You will be able to track the functions of the operation after it is done. And after it's finished my brain will be susceptible to the same signals your body is. You and I will be in the same mess; literally!'
Scratching his chin Huw interrupted the brief silence that followed.
'You know, both of you. This is a great idea. Ann?!' He prompted.
A quiet sound of servo mechanisms moving came from her seemingly motionless hulk.
In her usual authoritative and well pronounced fluency; without a trace from the messy mix of pitch highs and incomprehensible jumbles she said,'You crazy old crone. Are you completely out of your enhanced mind?!'
Both Hue and Lubowski were unsurprised by her remark. The protective system hadn't even pulsed for a single moment. Lubowski inhaled.
'That is quite sincere. Perhaps it is exactly so. But it is the only thing I can do to show you that not only I, but others here on this station are well-dispositioned towards you.'
Huw stepped in.
'Dear, in good time I am sure we will collectively be able to trust you. I am truly sorry that your condition is such, but there still is not a complete communal awareness of who you are. I am willing to work towards that!'
'Are you going to present the addition to the rescue plan in front of the council together with me!?' Lubowski asked rigidly.
To Huw it was a release of pressure. He leaned forward on his hands with head tilting down. He looked up again. Lubowski hadn't bulged. He was looking at Ann, unblinking.
'Thank you. Both of you.' Ann whispered.
'There are some things I need to tell you about your sister.' Lubowski's face was still serious.
'Tell me after you have installed the chips.'
The light embraced the landscape behind their backs and left a cloud of quickly dispersing sparks. The Exo had just passed overhead and was now continuing on it's rapid journey across the orbit of the giant Keplerite. Mnemo had turned his back as well, perhaps in respect to his human companion.
The deposited crates; three in number, were standing as if thrown randomly - edges submerged in the quagmire of the alien land. The robotic swarm came out of the small cargo bay to lift the delivered supplies. Comically they gathered at the bottom of each and piling on top of each other in an effort to distribute the weight of the load equally. After a short frantic scramble back and forth, the small bots seemed to have come to a conclusion and started filing in gracefully the hovering 1-inch-above-the-ground cargo.
Ashley started pushing the foremost crate. 'C'mon you lousy tin cans!'
Flat smile face. Mnemo was watching, perhaps in a bit of confusion. He went behind the next and started helping to load it quicker as well.
'Bad feeling, Einie. That's all.'
'It might not be the most appropriate question to be asked, but are you worried about Brick and Zyana?'
'What a genius! Of course I'm worried! And by the way if you knew better, you wouldn't be asking a superior ranked officer questions you ask your mammy.' She briskly pushed the crate to one corner of the small cargo bay. The small bots underneath swarmed out and strapped the load with grapplers.
'I think there is strength in the emotional character of the genus homo.' Mnemo said precipitously.
Ashley gave him a look while walking to the next hovering crate but said nothing.
Happy smiley. 'It has come a long way. And it has even given me conscientious existence.'
Pushing the next crate she didn't respond immediately. 'Get the thrusters hot! Let's move this barge out of here.'
The swarm bots who have completed their tasks piled underneath what was left of the Zorgathron. They weren't leaving anything behind.
Ann's functions were going down one by one. The algorithmic pre-programmed instructions of the artificial neural network, governing the colony were completely shut off from the very beginning. Memory banks would support her knowledge while she was going in the state of coma. The part of the core simulating her brain would be copied to an independent processing unit. The virus itself was long gone, but the mapped brain remained. It was using the bits of the informational flux in the core and positioning a neuron and synapses in the virtual realm of the data bits. They had a double function. When 'idle' or not performing tasks for the core they were busy simulating Annabelle's advanced neural network. It was noted that if they were to load the processing capabilities, her brain would shrink. What would follow from this was unclear, but the colony wasn't doing it either. They were leaving Ann to be who she is in the small confined space they had designated for her. Some members of council were not clear how the newly simulated brain would operate. For a lot of the colonists it was going to be just a reiteration of the mannerly(even if artificially induced) ANNaBELLe. To those who knew that it was going to be a liberated and free entity... well, they were keeping the information down to the bare essentials.
Lobowski was there in the room while Ann was steadily losing conscience. 'I am sure in time these prehistoric methods of ensuring your assistance will be unnecessary.'
The respected member of council was now wired with the same deadly implants. He has tied his fate to that of Ann's. 'I am slightly jealous of you. You will have a family member so easily. She will know everything you do but will perhaps be just as confused as you were. Remember - after the jump she will be free. I believe it is going to be for the better of all of us.'
The EVA swarm bots were constructing small spherical objects and putting them together. After a while they looked like a heavy vine of grapes. Or the eggs of an amphibian. Some of the bots were integrating their own bodies in the construction as an element of cohesion, while keeping their precessing units on-line and ready to be connected with the board computer. It was going to be a sort of a 'living' hull. The stigmergic efforts of the bots were creating a malleable 'skin' for the main module of the ship, which at the moment was serviced by the EVA teams of engineers in pressure suits and tele-operated robots. The large humanoid hulks were wired to enhanced virtual reality devices that were allowing the people behind the IVR(immersive virtual reality) to see, feel and experience the outside in an realistic fashion. The extreme experience of open space were of course - blunted down. But they were still feeling temperature differences, radiation winds and strong flashes of light. It was a learning precess for the growing space walkers on board the colony and the sensual reality of it made them more careful in their actions. They were able to operate with care when working under the supervision of the EVs on site.
The reconstitutor would finish the job and the hulk of the module was being dragged close to the giant halo of the device. It's pre-programming was completed and the machine was now powering up. The scarcity of energy supply on the colony was making the process slow and several simulations were run to ensure success of the final product. The reconstitution itself was done not in full power, hence the need to re-engineer the ship beforehand. Inspection was due after it passed the remodelling sequence and possibly additional improvements would be needed. It was a good time for creating team work environment in the colony. They were cherishing it.