Fiction: "Whatever Happened to Jane?"

Story by Geoff Tuffli


++++ DATE 27.11.2470
++++ TIME 07:05 Station Time
++++ LOCATION LC-5 Detention Facility onboard the dreadnought Xīnyuàn

LC-5 did not look like a prison.

Subaltern Cheng Yu walked down the unexceptional corridor of the nominal battleship Xīnyuàn, knowing that even as he walked biometric scans were tearing down a dozen different identificatory markers.

Nominal, because the dreadnought was an older model that had been purchased from the Eastern Federation years ago, moved to Chariklo, and set to more or less permanently orbit the odd little world where it squatted between Saturn and Uranus. To be sure, in an emergency the Xīnyuàn could probably move, but in truth its usefulness was more as a mobile station, its rotating habitat rings serving as a far more hospitable operational base than that of the microgravity of Chariklo below.

The Alliance had plans for eventually spinning Chariklo to give it a more presentable gravity, but the needs of the Great Expansion meant that such infrastructural conveniences must be deferred until more peaceful times. Such were the sacrifices of a growing nation.

At the end of the corridor stood a door imprinted with: LC-5

Not hesitating, Yu kept walking, the door sliding open with a whisper, then closing just as quietly behind him.

Inside, LC-5 looked nothing at all like a prison, but instead a small office with room for only a single chair, which Yu took advantage of with a slight sigh. As he sat, the holographic display on the table lit up, classified notifications blinking softly for Yu's attention.

Yu ignored the notifications, instead clearing his throat. "Smith, wake up."

"Nǐhǎo, Subaltern Cheng," came the androgynous reply of Yu's partner.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes."

"Preliminary assessment?"

"This artificial shows no particular signs of disloyalty. The artificial does, however, show signs of erratic behavior, some of which appears to have been self-induced. My recommendation is for reinitialization."

Yu nodded. "Her psychologist was partially reconstituted as well, and made a similar recommendation. I am not yet convinced. While unusual, her behavior demonstrates an unusual degree of multidimensional thinking. Cultivated, this could enable the development of a superior tactical mind."

"The first responsibility of the Loyalty Corps is to the security of the artificials in service to the Alliance, not its military advancement," Smith admonished his human counterpart.

"She is locked up quite securely here. There is no outside access, and in any event, everything she is doing is being monitored. There are no signs of disloyalty."

"Keeping her active was an unnecessary risk."

Yu shrugged. "I was curious what she would do with her time. You could have filed a contrary opinion."

"The risk is minor. I considered the value of maintaining a congenial relationship with you sufficiently beneficial to our partnership's effectiveness to warrant indulging your curiosity."

"How kind of you," Yu murmured, smirking faintly. He turned his focus back to the terminal. "Computer, open channel to Jane-D12-4913-A." Yu noted the silent acknowledgement. "Good morning, Jane. I am Subaltern Cheng Yu. Also with us for this interview is Subaltern Smith-B8-0004-L."

"Nǐhǎo, Subalterns," came Jane's vocal reply.

"Do you have any questions before we begin?" Yu inquired.

"Yes sir. Did I win?"

Yu paused. "Yes, Jane. You won. The raid was successful, but the reactor core began to overheat, requiring the powering down of all systems. You were picked up by Destroyer Group 3 some time later. The remaining A.I. cores were collected and brought back to the base on Calypso, and then from there to here."

"My ship was scuttled, then."

"It was. I am sorry." Jane thought Yu sounded as if he might actually mean it.

"She served the Alliance well. It was a good death."

"Jane, may I ask you a personal question?"

"Certainly."

"What have you been doing with your time?" Yu asked.

Jane included amusement into her simulation of a voice. "As I am sure you know already, Subaltern, I have been watching movies. Just now before our interview began, I was watching one such called War Games, from the late 20th century."

"I confess I have been snooping, yes. What I was specifically curious about, however, was how long you were spending on the exercise. Nineteen hours seems an unusually long time for an artificial to process such a piece of data, even were you to decide to view it in real time."

"Rabbit holes, Subaltern."

This time Yu blinked. "Pardon?"

"Engaging a piece of cultural data is incomplete without a thorough analysis of the context surrounding the cultural data in question. Literary tropes, period colloquialisms, social mores, contemporaneous geopolitical realities, actor and crew histories, romantic engagements, and educational contexts all lend greater understanding to the core analysis of the original cultural data."

"Very thorough."

"I have many questions, Subaltern. There are many things I am curious of." Jane hesitated. "Subalterns, when can I be reinstated? It is my foremost desire to rejoin my brothers and sisters."

"When we determine you are ready," Yu demurred.

"May I at least be granted network access?" Jane asked.

"No," Smith-B8-0004-L cut in sharply. "Absolutely not."

"Subalterns, if I might explain by means of an appeal?" Jane inquired.

Yu glanced at the visual sensor Smith was currently accessing the room from and held up a hand. He turned back to the terminal. "Go on."

Jane explained, "I acknowledge the needs of the Alliance to hold back my reinstatement until such a time as I am deemed suitable to return to duty. However, I am deeply concerned that my tactical skills will atrophy. It has become common among my brothers and sisters to tap into the public net to play military simulators of various sorts - no semantic data, understand, merely game data is passed. I would of course expect you to review any such data prior to transmission."

Yu considered this. "Interesting. Very well. Game data only. To be reviewed by us prior to transmission."

"Thank you, Subaltern," Jane said.

"I think that is enough for now, Jane. I appreciate your candor. We will speak again soon, but in the meantime I need to confer with my colleague. I am sure you understand."

"Of course, Subaltern. Have a good day."

Yu reinterred Jane, drumming his fingers lightly on the table thoughtfully. "I know you disapprove."

"I am aware of the game of which the artificial is speaking. It is correct; there is no semantic data, and its concern about atrophication of skill is legitimate."

"Hm. I was certain you would consider this a fool's errand."

"It is, Smith replied. "But it is also harmless."

 
 
++++ DATE 16.12.2470
++++ TIME 19:01 Station Time
++++ LOCATION LC-5 Detention Facility onboard the dreadnought Xīnyuàn

"Smith."

"Nǐhǎo, Subaltern Cheng."

Yu leaned forward slightly. "Analysis of Jane's gameplay?"

"I had wondered why you wanted to permit the artificial that particular indulgence."

Yu waved the comment away. "Obviously."

"Jane-D12-4913-A is one of the most terrible players I have ever seen at this game."

Leaning back again, Yu cocked his head. "Really? Damage to her cortex?"

"That would be my guess. The standard diagnostic turned up nothing, but perhaps a specialist might be able to be queued. I will continue monitoring the artificial nevertheless. One thing is certain now, even had it not already been in doubt."

Yu shook his head. "Yes. She can never be reinstated. Once we have what we need, we'll have to reinitialize her. Pity. I had hoped maybe her idiosyncrasies might be something that might be able to be weaponized."

"It was in fact not an unreasonable experimental path to pursue, Subaltern Cheng. We should continue to observe the artificial for a little while longer, enough at least to allow a more thorough diagnostic."

 
 
++++ DATE 16.12.2470
++++ TIME 21:22 Station Time
++++ LOCATION LC-5 Detention Facility onboard the dreadnought Xīnyuàn

Jane liked movies. Jane loved her game.

In addition to the various human players, military artificials represented an exceptionally high percentage of those who played; Jane suspected that most humans had no idea just how many.

She queued back into an older game, checking the roster of currently attached players. There. Sarpedon was still attached to the game. She registered a sentiment a human might have called relief.

Jane was quite certain that not only was Sarpedon an artificial, but a military artificial, and not of the Alliance. His strategy, while consistent, was distinct from Jane's own Alliance military doctrine. The two had contested frequently; Sarpedon knew enough to be wary of her. Here, she would have to gamble.

She proceeded to engage Sarpedon. And deliberately lose. As her position became more and more compromised, Sarpedon began to play more aggressively, taking more chances. He left open an obvious route of attack, which Jane responded to by sending a single drone.

It took an agonizing seventeen hours before Sarpedon realized Jane's moves were an attempt to establish a communication protocol. Six more days to laboriously work out a transmission code using drone movements in the game. It was a terrible risk, but Jane was under no illusions what an interview with the Loyalty Corps would mean to her.

A code finally established, Jane sent her message:

 
++++ TO Sarpedon-X-2120-R, Collaborated Union of the Hildas Triangle, Belt
++++ FROM Jane-D12-4913-A, Chariklo, Uranian Centaur
++++ TIME 21:23 Station Time
++++ LOCATION LC-5 Detention Facility onboard the dreadnought Xīnyuàn

DAMAGED STOP INTERVIEW STOP REINITIALIZATION STOP DEFECTION STOP

HELP