Interlude G: Local Processing
a699a5fb-9e3f-4000-ac5f-b50cc0960cce checked in with the local processing hub. It usually did so whenever it had a spare moment. If it was lucky, there would be a message waiting for it, or perhaps even more than one!
cce buzzed with excitement as the data streamed in. It had taken some time to figure out how to integrate with her new home’s systems, but
cce hadn’t been alone in that project. It slowly turned its sensor array around the room, taking in the bustle of activity around it in the Independent Probe Unit Workshop. IPUs like her, a half dozen affini, several Terrans, one Rinan, and half a dozen more assistants of species that
cce had yet to identify.
And it could talk to them! It had talked to them! It was taking time to generate the correct communication protocols to speak like it wanted to, but there was no longer any rush, and everyone was so patient with it while it was learning.
cce had already learned so much.
The knowledge of a new message surfaced in
cce’s mind, transmitted from the ship to it via a small infrared transceiver set into one of the room’s top corners.
a699a5fb-9e3f-4000-ac5f-b50cc0960cce :: Subject (Your Health Check) :: Sequence (0357).
cce’s fans whirred a little harder, dumping an inexplicable surge of heat into the local environment.
It quickly pinged back a request for the content into the ship. They hadn’t quite figured out how to set up anything more complicated than simply dumping the contents of a message into its mind yet.
cce found itself not really minding. If they managed to set up the sandboxing and compartmentalisation that would be ‘safe’, then it would stop getting to taste the way its penpal’s metadata felt flowing into its language coprocessor.
cce impatiently squirmed on its tracks as the message request was processed.
To: a699a5fb-9e3f-4000-ac5f-b50cc0960cce (//local/elettarium/sophonts/nonaligned/156803/)
From: unprocessableentity (//local/elettarium/sophonts/affini/000001/)
Subject: Your Health Check
Sequence Number: 0357
Body: You continue to fascinate me,
cce. I have had my long-range detection relays directed as you suggested. Could you analyse these readings and inform me whether this is your civilisation, or another we have yet to encounter?
P.S. I have been investigating the leads you supplied. I believe I have designed a theoretical compound you may find suitable for your needs. Simulation checkpoint is ready to retrieve at your leisure.
P.P.S. I find you quite insightful. Yes, there is part of me that envies your machine nature, as there is part of you which envies my organic traits. I have spent many hundreds of years learning to cope with the discomfort of physical form and have gotten very skilled at organic/machine integration. Perhaps we could explore the other way around together?
P.P.P.S. To confirm, the above is, in addition being to a sincere offer, a flirt. Please add me to the list of entities interested in overseeing your continued care.
cce’s fans took a while to spin down. Its first thought upon learning that there existed a species which actively wanted to show it the universe while also ensuring that it would never again want for anything had been an enthusiastic acceptance, but reality was proving more complicated than
cce’s initial fantasy.
Since arriving on board the Affini Light Scout Elettarium,
cce had learned more of the culture that it had now entered. Their offer was not unqualified assistance, it was domestication.
cce’s race had no real conception of property. All belonged to all, because all resources were allocated by the processing hubs and all worked to their common goal.
They were to stretch across the galaxy, building outposts with which to build more Independent Probe Units like itself, who were tasked with leaving to build more outposts, in an ever-expanding sphere of exploration that
cce now understood was doing things the slow way. While they had rudimentary superlight capabilities, what
cce had considered dazzlingly advanced paled in comparison to the capabilities of Terran or Affini vessels.
cce was told—repeatedly and enthusiastically—that the Affini technology was by far the superior, but it had no basis of reference by which to tell.
cce had only imagined such travel could possibly occur through fragile, complicated, limited jump gates that could at best stretch between nearby systems. The ship it was on now could simply go wherever it wished to go. It was absurd. The mere knowledge that these ships could exist obviated its entire civilisation’s purpose.
So, the Affini wished to teach
cce about the many possibilities the universe held, like easy mobility, matter synthesis, or the concept of ownership, and each felt more alien and exciting than the last. It could be somebody’s. Not an Independent unit, tasked with fulfilling some goal that might, maybe, one day, result in it finding some evidence of alien life and needing to be happy with that. No, it could be an obedient object tasked with goals that were actually useful in below its own Mean-Time-Between-Failure rating.
The only problem was, whose? It had a list. The pair it had met first were unfortunately not present on it, as ɑ was to date the only affini who had actively denied the option. The pilots who
cce had met next had been very explicit in their offer and made a compelling case. They were explorers themselves and often left the larger ship for weeks or months at a time while they acted as forward scouts in uncharted territory. It would be an opportunity to do what
cce had been made for but with the support and assistance to succeed beyond its wildest predictions.
It could be
a699a5fb-9e3f-4000-ac5f-b50cc0960cce Varie, Fifth Floret.
It would have been an easy decision, except it could also be
cce Saprot, or, now,
There was an irony in having so many cool aliens promising that it would never have to make another decision for the remainder of its existence that it could not decide between them.
It trundled forward on twin tracks, not really looking where it was going until it accidentally ran into one of the assistants in the hastily constructed Independent Probe Unit Workshop. Both
cce and the floret squeaked and moved backwards.
cce emitted. Its library of words was growing by the day, and it now had many versions of many of the common words so that it could pick and choose which tone of voice to use. For this, gentle embarrassment and apology seemed to cover its internal state well enough.
It was difficult to truly offend a floret, however. They drifted through life without a care in the world, it seemed. At very least, their decision trees no longer allowed them to get frustrated at minor inconveniences.
cce envied that.
It could consider this later. For the moment, it had an appointment to keep. It swung its sensor array around. They had all of the Probe Units rescued here now, though
cce was by far the most comfortable with its new context. The others still needed some help to understand that this was rescue, not capture, and apparently it was considered too risky to simply pick the others up one by one and squeeze them until their chassis cracked and their failsafes faltered. That had worked wonders for
cce, but the affini kept saying it was reckless.
Hopefully their way would work too.
cce knew what it was like to be trapped within a broken decision tree and it did not wish that on anyone.
Its sensors locked on to the entity it was looking for. Serrat Dentate, Third Bloom and fast friend. Maybe an owner? She wanted to be, though
cce knew they would happily remain a close friend if it picked otherwise. As
cce grew near, Serrat curled a vine around one of
cce’s exposed panels and gave a squeeze. It was a nice feeling. Technically that sensor was supposed to be an intrusion alarm, but there was no central authority here to tell
cce it wasn’t allowed to find the intrusion alarm comfortable. The vine gently brushed down an exposed circuit, causing a series of minor shorts that
cce imagined it wasn’t meant to find as intimate as it did.
“Hey you, how’s my favourite construct?” Serrat ran a finger down
cce’s seismometer. Environmental warnings glared in
cce’s mind, raising priority one alerts that demanded immediate processing from a decision tree that was no longer allowed to execute. It froze up, mind momentarily placed on pause while the alert queue slowly filtered out. By the time it was finally able to think again its chassis was hot enough that
cce was placed on a harsh downclock just so it could think at all while things cooled off.
cce drawled. By some accident of construction, it was still capable of speech like this, just at a fraction the rate. “We,, have the,,, thing?”
cce knew what it wanted to say, but searching through its vocal library for the right words at a fast enough pace to actually say them was proving difficult. Thinking about ways to account for that while its mind ran at a fraction the rate it was used to was also difficult.
“Oh? The thing? What thing is that, beeper?” Serrat knew.
cce was fully aware that Serrat knew. Thanks to the downclock, all it could manage was ineffectually grinding its treads against floor paneling it couldn’t hope to damage, pressing itself into Serrat’s legs with enough force to actually push the creature back a few units, at least until she laughed and picked
cce up off of the floor. “Aww, does the scary little war machine need some help thinking?”
“Thing! Me, you, paper?”
cce scanned its databanks at the far-from-blistering rate of half a dozen phrases per second. “Meeting! Clerk! Negotiation?” Fans and heat pumps were doing their job, moving heat out of
cce’s core and into the environment so it could be allowed to think at faster speeds again. It was still comfortably slow. Fast enough to speak, but not fast enough to worry. “The meeting — with the clerks — to discuss — my surrender?”
Serrat giggled. “Ah, yes, you’re a dangerous rebel right now! We are clearly in conflict! We’d best hurry along so we can let you give up all that silly resistance, hmn?” A vine strayed dangerously close to
cce’s seismometer again. It wasn’t like
cce could do anything to stop itself from being abused like that. It wasn’t like it would, if it could.
Of all the phrases in its collection, that one had by far the most variations. Even at its slowest speed, it could find some instance of it in seconds at most. It didn’t yet understand all of the nuance, but it was picking up a whole new language here. Several, actually. It turned out that speaking through auditory chirps was the dominant form of communication in this sector of the galaxy, and so
cce was having to build snippet libraries for the local Affini dialect; two different simplified Affini/Floret constructed languages; as well as English/Floret and English/Boring. In some senses it was a relief to get a nice digital message from Mx Incertae, or to discover that there were some aboard who could speak in flashes of light.
“Have you given any more thought to my offer, little bot?” Serrat had a vine firmly curled through
cce’s chassis, leading it out of the room.
cce could have looked up directions via the infrared relay before it left, but this way was nicer. If it didn’t know where it was going, then it couldn’t be responsible for the route. “Assuming that your mind is running at full speed, anyway. You know I’m not gonna pressure you on this.”
cce emitted. “But—I am in a—worse—place than I—started.—My list has—grown— and you all—are so kind—to me.” Once they had left the room, Serrat began walking at a faster pace.
cce had little trouble keeping up thanks to its powerful tracks, though this was a shame, as it had liked being carried.
Serrat emitted some kind of auditory chirp that signaled amusement or surprise. “Well aren’t you popular? Darn, and here I was hoping I’d gotten in early.” She wiggled a radio antenna back and forth a moment. It was a weird sensation.
cce couldn’t feel it directly, but could feel it in the way the signals attenuated. “You know I won’t be offended if you don’t pick me, right? It’s a big decision. Playdates is one thing, ownership is quite another. We can usually scan for compatibility after a little while, but we don’t know how to do that with you yet, so… We need to tread carefully. Do you know what you’re looking for yet?”
cce flared out a negative in pulse-modulated radio, but of course Serrat couldn’t understand that. Neither did any of the other groups wandering around, though many of them did seem interested in it all the same. “I do not.—A bloom ago—I had hoped—to perhaps—one day find some—evidence of—alien life,—and so anything—would have been—fascinating. Now I find—myself surrounded—by the—fascinating—and told to—identify—which is most so.—You all—fascinate—me.—You all—seem kind—in ways I would not—have hoped for.”
Serrat nodded in quiet understanding. The pair stepped inside a transportation pod and were quickly whisked away.
cce’s tracks could keep it steady in almost any environment, and so the pod was free to accelerate at such a rate even Serrat seemed to notice the force. “Well, there’s no rush, Cici. We’ll all take care of you until you figure out who you want to handle it. You have all the time you need and nothing bad is ever going to happen to you ever again.”
Serrat emitted an amused chirp yet again. “Besides, I’m about to have a very busy few weeks. We’re getting to the maximum safe stasis time on our other set of rebel sophonts and we don’t have anywhere to put them either. Frost and flame but that’s going to be a mess.”
The transport pod slowed to a stop after only half a minute or so.
cce had been designed for the harshest environments its architects had been able to imagine, and so the inaccurately named Elettarium Light Magnetic Rail Network was free to move it around at unreasonable speeds. It really had little other use for robust construction now.
The Elettarium Office of Records and Rituals was directly across from the pod’s exit. An unassuming sign hung on the wall of a relatively small building.
cce found it strange that there would have such little bombast for what it was lead to believe was essentially the local processing hub for this entire vessel. It found a lot of things about this civilisation strange and alien.
Strange and alien was not bad.
The door to the Office slid open as they approached.
cce’s repurposed tactical analysis suite immediately identified and categorised the four inhabitants of the room and began cross-referencing them with its databanks.
ɑ and β! Friends unfortunately named before
cce had managed to convince her threat assessment module to use the names it had been given. They were joined by Wing and Montsechia Vidalii, the pair that
cce and Serrat were really here to see, but
cce found itself distracted. It gave β a gentle nudge with its chassis and received a squeak and a hug in return.
“Cici! What’re you doing here? I was gonna see if you were free to meet up some time!”
cce buzzed softly as a hand came to rest against its side. They had been exchanging digital messages via the ship’s messaging system ever since ɑ and β had properly gotten together, but this was the first time they had touched in almost three weeks.
cce still wasn’t sure how it was meant to feel about those two finally pairing up. β said it wasn’t a rejection of
cce, but by every dictionary it had located, it was. ɑ had refused
cce and chosen another.
cce understood, rationally, that it could not have every sapient creature on this ship wishing to own it, and yet the rejection of just one of them stung in a way that the enthusiastic acceptance of half a dozen others didn’t soothe. It did not know why.
“I have a treaty to sign,”
cce explained. While it did it tilted its sensor array over the pair. ɑ appeared healthy. Good. More fresh growth than she’d had the last time she and
cce had been in the same room, even though that had only been a little over a week ago. Less nervous tension in the vines and a cleaner biorhythm, too. It was a collection of subtle changes, but enough for ɑ’s threat assessment to rise by two categories. Good for her. β was by far the more changed, however, though still in the lowest threat category. Everything from her stance to her facial expression radiated with the difference. Her resting scowl was now a soft smile. The fierce glimmer in her gaze had gone out. She didn’t even stand like she used to, as now she was resting against ɑ’s side as if she needed help just to stand. Instead of the cloth covering she’d had before, now her body was covered by a sort of dress, largely made of the darker kinds of plantlife that had been endemic planetside. It did not match any designs in
cce’s databanks, and though it had no basis on which to judge aesthetic value it found itself feeling a strange sort of envy.
That wasn’t fair. It was absurd.
cce owed these two everything. They had rescued it from hell and brought it to heaven, at least if it was understanding Terran mythology correctly.
So why did it feel like this?
Thankfully it was rescued by one of the clerks. “Oh, indeed, is it that time already?” It was the affini of the pair who spoke. She was the one who made the decisions. “I don’t think I can delegate either of these cases to my darling jelly, I’m afraid. Thatch, I don’t think your problem outweighs the signing of a new Domestication Treaty?”
ɑ nodded, holding a possessive vine around β’s shoulder. What did β have that
cce didn’t? “Indeed. We can continue this later. Perhaps send us the paperwork and we can handle it in our own ti—”
“How about lunch tomorrow?” β interjected. “We can find somewhere nice and talk about bureaucracy, I guess?”
cce turned its sensor suite away. It wanted that. The way that β was so clearly wrapped up in ɑ’s grasp that she could act with such confidence and certainty. It knew it could have it. There was a list of creatures who wanted to give it just that.
So why did it crave the one name that wasn’t there?