Friday, January 14, 2011

Leaving Town

“It is, perhaps-” Carbon stopped talking and shifted uncomfortably in her acceleration chair. She likely understood where Alex was going his question about the data throughput of her antennae. “There is no way to truly measure the speed of a biological system.”

“Uh-huh. Let me rephrase that. What’s the throughput on your personal AI’s interface?” Alex double checked their new heading. They’d be crisping in the local stars corona in six days. He discarded the tablet as he left the console, pushing himself over to the storage lockers.

“It is...” she hesitated, and her voice wavered as she continued. “A-about two terabit, per side.”

“Full duplex?” He continued down the row of lockers, grunting unhappily as he closed each door.

Just one word quiet and plaintive, “yes.”

“Super.” Four terabit was a little bit lower than he’d have liked, but given the situation it would do. He was sure it would be fast enough for what he had in mind. Sure enough to give it a try, anyway. Alex lifted a trio of thick cables out of the locker with a grin. Just what he was looking for.

He turned back to find Carbon watching him with no small amount of horror. Her eyes were wide and her antenna curled over the tops of her shoulders, hands grasping the fluffy tips protectively. She knew exactly what he wanted to do, her voice still faint but very insistant. “I cannot.”

He knew what the problem was. Tslao didn’t like machines poking around inside of their brains. The brain and its contents were sacred to them, so they preferred to poke their minds around in the AI. Humans did things a little differently. Alex let the ship’s AI co-opt large portions of his brain through the Amp during waverides. It was easily as accurate as a dedicated navigation AI as well as being significantly faster and cheaper.

“I know you don’t want to but we don’t have many options right now. All you’ll have to do is get indexed, interface with the system and hit the triggers. It’s really easy, there is nothing to worry about.” He smiled - more sadly than he had intended as he lied through his teeth, holding out one end of the data cable.

Carbon pursed her lips and nodded in assent, her eyes trusting him as she took the cable from his hand. It made his deceit all the worse. He might not have been explicitly lying - all she would have to do is sit there and there was no actual threat of damage, but indexing was still an unpleasant experience.

Every now and again Alex would still have nightmares about his indexing. It had all been in his head, but he’d never forget the cold blade buried between his shoulders. How it unzipped his spine and carved away his body, piece by piece. Once the module started writing you had to finish it in one shot. Incomplete indexes were blanked and recycled.

He pushed away, feeding the cable as he went. Out from the compartment, through the main engineering and into the passageway. Alex stopped in the middle, unlatched a floor panel and pressed his palm on the veripad. The armored capsule hissed as the inert gasses inside escaped, the cover sliding out of the way and folding up like origami. The modules - his module and a bypass for Carbon - sat in their cradle, surrounded by blinking lights assuring their continued functionality.

Alex unlatched both of them, pulled his module and gave it a once over. It was about as large as his forearm, the tiny window into the memory gel glowing red. He wrapped his hand around the bottom of the cylinder, fingers finding the scuff where he’d dropped it before he twisted the cap off. It slid apart easily on oiled rails and he flushed the data with the flick of a switch and press of a button.

It went back together just as easily, the memory gel a much more inviting blue now. Unwritten and eager for brain information. He swapped the blank with Carbon’s bypass and plugged the cable in. Everything lit up just like it should, waiting for a fresh imprint.

He shot back down the passageway to find Carbon sitting in her chair, AI clipped to her shoulders and the cable snakeing out from her back. She looked a little pale, gripping the padded armrest tightly. Alex snatched the tablet out of the air and settled next to her.

“Ready?”

Her voice was still uneasy, “as much as I will be.”

“Good. Look, uhm, there’s something I might have glossed over earlier.”

The look of horror started to creep back in. “What is it?”

“There’s no danger, the process is entirely safe! But it is... very unpleasant the first time. The computer will attempt to make a full scan of your brain and this can manifest itself in a variety of ways. There will be pain and your body will stop responding... These are all temporary.”

She whimpered, sinking back into the chair. “If it must be done, it will be.”

“Thank you. It’s a lot like a link, just stay calm and don’t try to fight it. I’ll stay with you, for what that’s worth.” He covered her hand with his and smiled warmly. No one had even offered to stay with him.

She let go of the armrest and gripped his hand, nodding. “Please, start the process.”

Alex steadied the tablet between his thigh and the chair, dialing down to the indexing routine. It was deceptively simple looking. He hit the big ‘begin’ button and watched the progress bar light up. “Started. Should take three minutes.”

“I do not feel anything.” She sounded just a little hopeful.

“Give it time. Don’t try to fight it...”

Carbon exhaled and closed her eyes. She looked placid as the progress bar moved steadily, only the occasional twitch betraying that anything occurring. She jerked upright, sucking in a startled breath. Her hand tightened around his as she looked down, “I cannot feel my legs!”

“Just part of the process. Keep breathing. Abdomen comes next, then torso.”

Her breathing became ragged, each further disappearance marked with a spasm and gasp. Her voice was set on edge now. “How much longer?”

“A minute. Arms next, then head, hearing and vision.”

She just grunted through gritted teeth, eyes rolling back for a moment. Her hand went slack around his. This was about where he had started to come unraveled. Alex reached up to touch her cheek, the last thing she’d feel for about forty five seconds. Carbon just sat there staring forward, breathing evenly.

The tablet beeped and she twitched again, the life back in her body. She muttered something in Tsla and started shivering.

“Let’s get out of here.”

“How?”

“Tell it you want to turn the drive and navigation systems on.”

Carbon closed her eyes and moments later the ship thrummed to life again. “Done.”

“Now... uh, sink into the navigation system. The data from the emergency waveride should be there waiting for you.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment. “Oh. It is incredible.”

“That’s great.” He knew what she was seeing, and it was pretty incredible. But he was feeling a little bit pressured to get going before the Ehom scow started shooting or called in backup. “Just reach out and grab the path and pull us along it.”

She did.

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