The three of me reconvene, when in close proximity their memories synchronize more easily. I have access to the memories of all three interviews without the slightest time delay. I review them, all three brains working together to process the data. Within five minutes I am ready to start building consensus on the issues at hand.
First priority is the issue of microbots. Do I allow myself to be packed up in stasis for years if not decades, or become immortal? Even temporarily? The voyage will take a long time, yes, and there will be few experiences worth remembering on a small vessel such as this. But Engineer assures that the drive I brought along can store centuries worth of memories, and if it gets even close to filled I can delete extraneous memories. Medic would like to examine the microbots, and would not have a chance to study them while in stasis. Representative does not feel strongly either way. Consensus is formed, we will take immortality, for now.
Second priority is whether to attempt to save any data on how to replicate presently discovered Federation technology. It is known that the Federal Guard typically reacts to any sign of nanotechnology on a quarantined world with orbital bombardment. However the antimatter production technology that Henrik alluded to may prove useful and is not specifically prohibited to my knowledge. Magnetic monopoles would be prohibited but there is no means of producing them on board in any case. Engineer believes that up to 50% of local memory storage should be devoted to downloading technical data. Medic thinks that more space should be left free for personal memories, maybe 25%. Representative agrees with Medic. Consensus formed, 30% of my local memory storage is dedicated specifically to technical data storage.
Third priority is which crewmembers to interview next. Online crew profiles indicate that there are four remaining crew and three bodies. I can interview three crew now and the remaining one later. But which ones? The remaining crew are Captain Shigeto Terryn, First Mate Gudrun Korba, Navigator Rika Fischer, and Purser Adham Ricardo. Captain Shigeto Terryn and First Mate Gudrun Korba were met previously at docking, and a quick comparison of his profile image to my memory indicates that Purser Adham Ricardo was the crewman Engineer briefly encountered as she was returning from the interview with Henrik. Of the four only Navigator Rika Fischer, an uplifted sea lion rather than a true parahuman, is the only member of the crew that none of my bodies have encountered in person. Engineer would like to speak with Purser Adham Ricardo, his morphology intrigues her somehow. Medic noticed some anatomical oddities in First Mate Gudrun Korba and would like a chance to examine her more closely. Representative feels that it might be useful to communicate with this “Captain”, by my understanding the role of Captain is to act as some form of central coordinator for the rest of the crew. Why do they need to give their ideas and needs to a central source? Are they incapable of forming a consensus on their own without someone to coordinate them? I do not understand the function and must examine further. The three suggestions noted, consensus is formed and the three who shall be interviewed next are Purser Adham Ricardo, First Mate Gudrun Korba, and Captain Shigeto Terryn. Navigator Rika Fischer shall be contacted later.
Representative contacts Vicki again, asking the Artificial Intelligence to find the crew set to be interviewed and inform them of our desire to meet. “The Captain and the First Mate are in a private meeting.” The pseudo-insectoid avatar informs me with a twinge of simulated regret. “Standing orders are to not allow any disturbances to either individual during such times. Previous data estimates that they will become available in approximately 50-70 minutes.” Almost as an afterthought it adds, “Adham is currently in Engineering, but he has not indicated unavailability, shall I contact him now?”
Consensus needs to be revised. Two of the subjects are unavailable, two bodies will not be needed for some time. Representative suggests that one of us interview Navigator Rika Fischer while another interviews Adham. Engineer wants to interview Adham, Medic and Representative believe her expertise may be more useful speaking to Navigator Rika Fischer. Engineer acquieses.
I ask Vicki where one could find Navigator Rika Fischer, it says that Rika is on the bridge, on duty but not too busy to talk. I send messages informing Adham and Rika of my desire to speak with them and they reply shortly after. Representative goes to speak with Adham, Engineer goes to speak with Rika, Medic reports to Dr. Morris’ lab for medical examination prior to microbot injection.
Engineer feels an emotion I have no prior experience with, some kind of hostility towards Representative when the assignments are given out? Will need further investigation.
# Meeting the Crew Reprise
Representative finds Adham Ricardo in engineering, at the time he is talking to Henrik. The intriguing blend of fox and rodent turns from his conversation as I enter to give me a bewildered look. “You’re one of our passengers then?”
Medic returns to Dr. Taouchev’s surgery. The grouchy tigeroo looks at me disdainfully. “Well?” He asks, with a bit of impatience. “Have you all decided yet?”
Engineer heads over to the bridge, the section is in free-fall and I feel momentarily disoriented before that body’s inner ear sensations are cut off from the rest of the collective. The navigator, an Uplift rather than a Parahuman, spins in the air to face me as I enter the room. “Not used to microgravity yet?” Rika Fischer asks me.
I give the ship’s purser a more in-depth look as I consider him. Large ears and pointed muzzle like mine, tan fur like mine, tail, thin and tipped with a tuft of brown fur instead of fluffy and black-tipped like mine. “I am your passenger, yes. I saw you earlier and wanted to discuss some things with you.”
I give Dr. Taouchev my answer. “Yes. I have decided. All three of my bodies will be immortal for this journey. I will need all of their perspectives.”
I struggle to get my response to the navigator out without the nausea that I’ve localized to the Engineer body overwhelming my vocal chords. “No, I haven’t.”
Henrik interrupts. “Wait,” he interjects, “you’re not the same one who spoke to me a few hours ago. Your mesh ID is different.” Both the fox/otter and the fox/gerbil look puzzled. Adham asks, “I thought the one who met with Henrik was the one I spotted earlier?”
“Fine then.” The tiger hybrid retorts. “First we will need a full body scan.” He gestures to the body-sized cylinder laying open on the side in the center of the room. “I know that you have your own internal monitors, but you can understand that I would prefer to rely upon my own equipment, yes?”
The sea lion chuckles and giggles, “don’t worry about it.” She assures me. “You’ll get used to it soon enough.” She pivots and slowly glides towards me. “So, what was it you wanted to talk about?”
“I am the Emilia Collective.” I inform Adham and Henrik. “I used a different node to converse with Henrik earlier than I am using to converse with the two of you now but I am the same person. I remember our conversation,” I state gesturing to the otter hybrid, “and I remember you turning back when I spotted you,” I tell the rodent hybrid.
I start to grow slightly suspicious at the suggestion. Could Taouchev want to analyze the implants that enable me to exist across so many bodies for the Federation’s own purposes? No, I dismiss the idea as nonsense. The Federation would have already seized the schematics as soon as they had exiled my parents and killed the radical faction. The only major improvements that had been made in the past few centuries were in the materials. And those refinements were only needed because I didn’t have nanotechnology to fabricate my implants like the Federation did. Nanotechnology like I was going to infuse my bodies with. Seeing no point in resisting, I lay Medic down on the scanning bed.
As the motion sickness starts to pass I tell her my reason for being in this null-gravity hellhole. “I wanted to know about your function on this ship, how you guide it across the lightyears between stars?”
“Right,” Adham says, exasperated, “I remember hearing about that before we launched.
“So why are you using a different one now?”
The multi-function body scanner takes the better part of an hour to complete the assorted ultrasonic, thermographic, magnetic, and other various types of medical analysis it can perform. Once it has finished Dr. Taouchev tells me to lie down on a different bed, next to a device that has a pair of clear plastic tubes tipped with syringe heads that seem to be almost a full centimeter wide at the tips.
Rika outright laughs at me. “The navigation is mostly done by computers. Pretty much all I do is check their math and react in unexpected situations. Even computers don’t know how to handle everything. You met the AI yet?”
“That node was specialized for technical analysis and processing.” I tell Adham. “This node is trained in social interaction and advocation. It was determined that this node would be better suited for this interview with you.” I feel a momentary twinge of that strange emotion across the mesh again. “In any case, I wished to hear about your particular purpose on this ship. As far as I can tell it is something to do with resource allocation, yes?”
The tiger hybrid picks up one of the heads of the IV feeds, which begins to fill with a clear fluid with barely visible metallic flecks, and begins to draw it towards my side. “I attempt to limit the pain from this kind of thing.” He informs me, not too reassuringly, “but there will be some pain.” He sticks the needle directly into my femoral vein. There is a brief moment of sharp pain that ceases as abruptly as it began, replaced by a feeling of pressure in my thigh as the fluid is pumped in. “Every few months you’ll have to come in here to have the damaged microbots removed,” he picks up the other feed, “this one will circulate your blood out and filter it, while the other returns it with fresh microbots. It’ll take two or three hours to run, though this session will only take one hour. Will that be a problem?”
I recollect the odd virtual entity that assured me it wasn’t self-aware. “Yes, I have. So are you just a safeguard then? Someone who heads off problems before they get out of hand?”
The fennec/gerbil grins and glances at me over the tip of his muzzle. “A bit like that.” He admits, “it’s rather more complicated than that. Do you use money in your economy?” I know about the concept, historically, a means of decentralizing distribution of resources, inefficient. I quickly tell him “no” and he continues. “Well, most planets do have some form of currency, whether they call them credits or thalers or augrams or qcoins, and a major part of my job is determining the exchange rates between the various currencies used by the different planets that we visit. Most of the Federation uses production credits redeemable for raw materials and fabrication time on the public nanofabricators, the exact value varies from system to system outside the stargate network but within the network the Centauri production credit is the standard unit of value. It’s what I usually use as a standard when exchanging currencies too.” He continues on his lecture. “It gets more complicated with centrally planned economies, there we have to deal with entire governments instead of individual sellers, and that usually ends up large scale barter. Or the gift economies. “Give me that thing or do this thing for me and I’ll leave a good review for you, so maybe later someone will be inclined to do something for you.” It’s so ridiculous, we usually end up introducing a currency to them just to make things easier.”
I tell him “no,” I can probably have my bodies take turns with the procedure and task the other two for whatever is needed. The group was designed with a degree of redundancy. It occurs to me that the procedure should be done for Medic in time to meet with the two ranking officers on the ship. In the meantime, I open Medic’s senses to a full real-time stream from Engineer and Representative, tuning out her local perceptions almost in the entirety.
The pinniped bobs her head up and down. I think that’s an “affirmative”. “Pretty much,” she admits. “Did you want to see the interface now?” She swerves again, at this distance I can detect magnetic fields emanating from just below her skin to grasp the metallic walls. As I watch she drifts over to a bed with multiple restraining devices and electrodes affixed to the top.
What Adham is talking about is bizarre, I can’t understand this need to “exchange” one thing for another that he’s referring to. I tell him that it makes no sense, why not simply transfer resources to where they’re needed most? “Well,” he continues, “that’s what traders do. We bring goods and services from someplace where they’re abundant to a place where they’re scarce, and then take whatever’s abundant there to someplace else. Keeping some for ourselves to keep us running of course, but not as much as a central planning bureaucracy would take. It’s more efficient to go from the bottom-up so to speak.”
I look on, intrigued, as Rika floats over to the bed. As she approaches the leads trailing from the shelf snake out towards her and plug themselves in with robotic precision. Some manner of motors in the cables themselves? They would have to be microscopic, possibly nanotechnology. It’s unsettling how much they take nanotech for granted. My interface chimes with an invitation to stream her viewpoint as she plugs in and more motile cables secure her to the platform, I accept.
Ah, I see now, with multiple individuals you need someone to coordinate them. “My precursors agreed. My nodes have no central planning, my decisions are made as a consensus by all the component parts. When resources are needed the nodes on site communicate directly with the nodes that have the resources and the means to transport them. It is simple and efficient.”
My interface is overwhelmed with data from the stream, icons for literally everything on the ship it seems. Navigational headings, fuel supplies, matter stockpiles, structural integrity, I forward most of the data to Medic so that Engineer can function in this new environment but still more than half of what remains has to be canceled or blocked before I dare trying to move that body. I stare at the one, single sea lion hovering over the console, “so much data,” I say, exasperated, “how do you keep track of it all?”
Adham looks skeptical, “and no one along this supply chain tries to take more than is needed? No one thinks that they deserve more than others for any reason?”
Rika shakes a couple of the connectors out and turns back to face me. “I have an array of agent programs set on this console and in my implants to handle most mundane tasks. Generally only the most important or urgent things are brought to my attention. And in any case when we’re performing complex maneuvers like docking or combat my senses are locked out, the others would need to disconnect me manually to even try communicating with me in those cases.” So, I notice, she has to use external mind-simulations to handle this work load and still has to shut down external communication to make full use. How many bodies would a collective such as myself need to fly this ship?
Engineer suddenly redirects her attention from her surroundings to the feed from Representative and her conversation with Adham Ricardo. She picks up the emotional charge from Representative and reacts for reasons largely unknown to her.
I get confused again. “Why would such a thing be tolerated? Devoting disproportionate resources to one node benefits the one division at the expense of the whole.” I get a twinge of regret over the mesh, why?
“Well,” Adham says, “we have to tolerate it because everybody thinks that they deserve more resources than everybody else. They all want to consume, breed, and conquer more than anyone else.”
I refuse to believe that. “That’s not true. I…” I pause, in my case there is only one me, every one of my bodies is simply a division of me. One body hoarding resources hurts me as a whole but these others are not me. What could my attitude towards their resources be?
As I think Adham’s eyes lose focus for a few minutes as he reviews something through his implants. Finally finished with whatever he was doing he looks back at me now. “The mesh data says that your, “precursors” did you call them? It says that half of them attempted to kill off every other hive mind so that they could attempt to take over the universe themselves. It also says there were three group intellects that survived and were exiled to your world. What happened to the other two?”
I feel rage, anger. “All three died!” I shout at them. “They made me and then terminated themselves for being obsolete. Their plan was to distill the galaxy’s population into a single genotype that could form a single unified collective. And then all the imperfect other collectives would die off so their child could take over. So they made me from all their genes, taught me everything they knew, and died. Leaving me all alone.” I trail off on that last syllable, my voice tinged with emotions I had not experienced since long before this body was ever decanted.
“Oh,” Adham says, apologetic. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…” I don’t heard what he says next as I storm out of the room and head back to my cabin to meet up with the rest of me.
“You okay?” Engineer brings her focus back to her immediate surroundings. Rika is hovering near me, looking concerned. I’d allowed two of my bodies to lose their awareness of their surroundings, and I had canceled the stream from the ship’s systems. What was happening to me?