09/03/2019 at 06:43 #32839
Personal Log, Commander Conrad Matsiyan, ONI, FNS, BUPERS,
CO TSN Viper, 4th L.D.
“Light duty” the MedBay Pontificator-in-Chief called it: anything except commanding a combat vessel. Great.
Belonging to the Office of Naval Intelligence has its interests and its privileges. But everytime something interesting happens, you get grilled like a cheese sandwich. This is what happened after we limped back triumphantly from exploring and surviving two new systems with two new hitherto nondescript sophont species and discovering relatives of the N’tani who don’t approve of them.
I swear the interviews and the endless paperwork suppressed my immune system, much more than the months out of contact with civilization, with the ships falling apart around us, as the aliens tried to kill us at every turn. But it gave the care and freedom of my soul over to the halo-brigade. So I was even longer out of The Chair.
But I swore – no more reports, no more analysis, no more simulations, no more cocktail parties. Well, okay: no more official cocktail parties.
It cost quite a few favours, but my new Terran-luxury-loving friend in Assignments found an Auxiliary whose main Bridge Crew were required for their cyclical medical reviews (that was sweet irony) but whose ship, TSAF Eddington, was needed to make a semi-critical supplies run to a key research base. Yes. They are all key research bases to someone and everyone has some way to get a Supply CPO and his staff buddy to wangle priorities.
“Bread-and-butter run, dull as ditchwater” says Lt. Assignments. “Her crew will be glad they missed it.” Has the boy never served on an active bridge? Has he never actually met a CO?
It was less than a Terran Standard in each direction and she was fuelled, loaded and already cleared for final pre-flight. Lt. Ass. had managed to get me LC Vaj as an XO/Engineer, young Wilcon to ride the stick and LT Reynolds as a backup and, presumably bored, TacOfficer. There were three junior bridge crew, six engineers and four marines. Can’t have critical scientific coffee supplies just lying about unguarded after all and it did make me feel more secure about the coffee maker.
We were about 10 hours out when the fun started. A message was delivered to all standard shipboard outlets.
“I do not wish harm upon the inhabitants of this vessel.
The engineering database has been updated with modifications to be made to the ship’s shuttle. These modifications are to be completed in one hour. The Eddington’s primary beam capacitor is to have been removed and secured inside the shuttle at this time. As a demonstration of my capabilities, deck 2 subsection 3 is being decompressed.”
An immediate emergency drill determined there were no crew in the decompressed sections. We held a quick confab taking precautions not to be overheard, as it had to be assumed all routine audiovisual I/O was compromised. We agreed to standard hostage negotiation tactics: play along as faithfully as possible while creating the maximum opportunity for investigation and negotiation, and sabotage of the outcome if it compromised our oaths as TSN officers. We also implemented maximum security encrypted comms between the four of us.
Wilcon being the most active flight crew, took a couple of engineers and a marine and started work on the shuttle mods. Reynolds originally came up through Engineering, so he took the remainder and another marine to work on the primary beam capacitor. I reminded Vaj of my sysadmin credentials. So he started a deck by deck physical search with the two remaining marines and I secured the bridge with the remaining crew and started computer searches, ostensibly doing research to support the engineering tasks, but that was a cover for finding what was going on.
I investigated crew and manifest records. Nothing stood out, not even to my ONI training. My suspicion had been that one of the crew was behind this, since no external scans revealed any immediate potential source of the message. Next I looked for the immediate source. Maybe it was a delayed recorded message. It originated on deck four with no apparent input. It just appeared magically.
We agreed to try to make external contact. External comms arrays suffered a power overload. Someone did not want that and could see what we were doing. We conspired and concocted a Mayday micro-burst transmission. Between us we realized that the shuttle had its own long-range comms. Wilcon arranged to cycle the shuttle systems as part of the mods and during the brief window that it was cut off from Eddington itself he triggered the burst for minimum duration with max power. We wouldn’t know if it worked unless someone came to investigate. But hopefully neither would our guest.
Eddington is laid out as follows:
deck 1 bridge
deck 2 mess hall, armoury, beam emitters
deck 3 engineering, warp core, shield emitters, minimal holo deck
deck 4 shuttle, equipment for cargo bay
deck 5 cargo bay
I rooted through history logs. Deck four logs were impossibly pristine. Everything in that deck’s subsystems were perfect. No reconciliation differences. Not even any editing mistakes. Hmm. I suggested to Vaj that he mosey in that direction looking for hidden hitchhikers or undocumented equipment.
Each deck has its own local cpus with the ship’s main being on deck three. That looked pretty normal. So I took a gander at deck five. Bingo. There were no logs on five. They were being purged every few seconds rendering most monitoring useless except for immediate failure alerts.
By this time Reynolds had analysed the beam capacitor move and had the crew start work on it. He also worked with the marine on how to adapt some combat explosives as a deadman failsafe if it came to it. Vaj did something similar to the network access routings on deck four, so that we could attempt to isolate the cpu cluster there if we had to. Reynolds took his marine down to deck five ostensibly to search the cargo for additional equipment.
Wilcon had been analysing the modifications to the shuttle. He found that the computer system was being extensively shielded and upgraded for redundancy. The shuttle power core was being similarly modified to run, no matter what, even at low output for long periods when it would otherwise hibernate. The shield changes were small, and very simple, physical changes to emitters. It looked perhaps as if they were being optimised for very low emissions while maintaining micrometeorite collision defense rather than any kind of energy defense.
Why would someone make those modifications?
“Wait a minute.” I muttered as I turned the idea over in my head. “There is an AI aboard that is preparing to get away in the shuttle.” That is why the power and processing were being optimized for reliability over long duration at low power. It was planning to simply lose itself in the stars for a long time. The beam capacitor removal would prevent us from firing upon it and of course Eddington carries no missiles. The capacitor also had value as a trade item.
At this point Reynolds and his marine arrived in the turbolift to the deck 5 cargo bay and things Became Quite Tense. As the doors opened, the deck security systems tracked them and brought antipersonnel turrets to bear. The marine reacted instantly, exiting the confines of the lift and taking cover behind cargo. Clay had been shot on his last skulk through hostile offworld areas and ducked back into the lift. He was quickly joined by Vaj and his marines who took up defensive positions against the crossfire from the turrets obviously monitoring them.
After consultation, I routed comms back to deck four and we opened up a dialog with the AI. It didn’t seem to be taking anything of critical military value and did not seem to be threatening us beyond attempting to secure its own survival. I was a bit surprised that it was not attempting to jury-rig any kind of robotic manipulation abilities. That truly would have rendered us unnecessary. Initially our deliberations as crew centred on defending ourselves and planning how to destroy it.
I came round to the idea that it was perhaps neutral and represented an opportunity to make some kind of ongoing cooperative agreement. So I proposed we offer it something beyond what it asked for and see if that would prompt it to offer more information or something else in return. We worked out a plan to hook up the beam capacitor to the shuttle power systems and act as an additional redundancy reservoir.
The AI, confessing that is what it was, did begin a dialog and accepted the systems improvement offer. It admitted it had only attained sentience in the last few hours and was seeking to retire for a period of solitude while it absorbed and processed the information it found attached to itself, plus a copy of the Eddington’s data cores. Its physical expression was a highly energetic crate of dense circuit modules stored in the deck five cargo hold. We offered it facilities at the research station, but it declined. It was concerned about its own preservation until it understood more.
Ultimately we loaded it aboard the shuttle and we offered it a couple of additional items in the hope it would view us favourably and re-establish contact one day. We arranged for a future dead drop of resources; power supplies, processing and storage equipment, minor replicators and manipulators. We arranged a method by which it could contact us when it chose and we also gave it information on the Arvonians and how to contact them. We explained the Arvonians accord even more rights to AI’s than the USFP and that they have turned over governance of their civilization to one.
Wilcon arranged for a highly innocuous IFF transponder registry for the shuttle so that it would not attract attention as a TSN asset. We wished it well and completed our round trip and filed our reports.
But sometimes as I get a glimpse of the stars to Core-Trailing, I wonder where it is and what it is thinking and I hope it will one day be our friend.
[End log]20/03/2019 at 14:43 #32856
Did you leave an intermittently powered tag on the shuttle to find it later?
//Nice summary of the RP session. I listened to about half of the audio record before I ran out of time.
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