Turing's Children

By Radigast

         Alex looked at the screens, reviewing the readouts and reports from the engines and the computer core. Everything looked good; the ship was running fine, like it had been for the last one hundred and twenty years. Alex got up and stretched; he had been sitting and watching the flow of information for the last three hours. He knew that he didn’t need to do as thorough of a review every week as he did, the computer would notify him if anything deviated. He felt responsible for the overall operations; he wanted to make sure that nothing was missed. His vigilance had been rewarded once when he had seen a building anomaly in the holographic storage systems, but it had been minor and corrected before it had become serious. Alex bent over and punched the last few buttons, acknowledging the data and declaring himself satisfied. Straightening up, Alex turned around and headed out the door.
         The sun almost blinded Alex as he walked out the door. He reached into his pocket and grabbed his sunglasses, looking up he could see the clouds moving across the sky. He could remember lying out on the lawn with his boyhood friends watching the clouds and seeing elephants and whales. He thought that he could see the Nautilus up there now. Alex wondered if one of his programmers had had that much of a sense of humor. He looked around for the millionth time at the buildings and streets around the central complex, Alex felt again the hours and labor that went into designing and modeling all the structures. It had been years of careful planning and work that had resulted in the concrete under his feet and the rough bricks of the building across the street. Alex waved to Bob Benet as Bob walked on the sidewalk across the street, he could see a lot of people that he had gotten to know while they had been on this ship, traveling. He had met a lot of good people and he looked forward to working with them when they reached their destination. He just wished that Sam had come with them.
         Alex headed for the town hall. Since he had been the head of the team, the other surrogates had made him the de-facto mayor of their town. He passed by the training center and stopped to watch George teaching some others about Gate technology.
         He had been a child when mankind had finally found a way to travel faster then light. The warp gates were a breakthrough, and they allowed almost instantaneous travel between two points. The primary weakness is that both points had to have a gate. It had taken months for humans to travel to the Pluto area and put a gate there. It would take hundreds of years to reach anywhere beyond the solar system, and mankind didn’t have the resources to launch the generation ships that would be needed, that’s why they had built and launched the Nautilus.
         They had recruited based more on psychological factors then technical knowledge, there was going to be a lot of time for the recruits to learn the skills they would need for the job ahead. Alex was still amazed at the flexibility of the holographic storage system; each of the surrogates was its own dynamic entity within the core. Each of them could learn, could grown and gain skills. Alex himself had learned two new languages and developed a number of other skills in the last hundred years. Tearing himself away from the window, he continued to the town hall and reported in for the day.
         Being mayor of their city meant very little. There was a minimal police force since crime was almost non-existent. They had taken some shortcuts, so that the surrogates didn’t have to work at producing there own food or goods, unless they wanted to. Money wasn’t an issue since they didn’t use it. Alex mainly oversaw block parties and parades, they had found many things to celebrate, and they all seemed to enjoy their get-togethers. He sat at the desk and activated the computer monitor there.
         “Angel.” He said. “I need to review the upcoming week’s schedule.”
         Angel was one of the few pure program personalities that they had taken with them. He had modeled her after the pictures of celestial beings that he had seen as a child, he’d even given her wings and a halo. When they had first developed the holographic storage system, they had been working on creating artificial intelligence. They had used the system to build virtual personalities, hoping to come up with dynamic learning programs that would be able to do the everyday, mundane tasks. That same technology allowed them to store a full copy of a human’s mind, leading to the Nautilus; a ship that didn’t need food, water, air, or even gravity.
         Angel appeared and taking out an old fashion style appointment book, she held it up, seeming to cover the screen.
         “I have it right here for you Alex.” She said in an almost musical tone.
         A big block party was on for this Wednesday and the craft group was doing a show on Thursday, nothing to interfere with his monthly card game on Friday. Alex put down the schedule and looked around. His eyes landed on the picture of Sam that he kept in the office. For the hundredth time he wished that she had come along. Alex still felt strongly about her, to the point that he hadn’t allowed himself a relationship with any of his fellow surrogates. He wondered if his human self and Sam had had any children since the ship had left. He and Sam could be great-grandparents by now. That was one thing that Alex knew he would never have. They had looked at the possibility of have virtual children, but they determined that the behavior and personality of a child was dependent on a physical body, as well as the teachings and upbringing of the parents. They had decided that the requirements were beyond what they could accomplish with their project. He now wished that he and Sam could have had children before he had downloaded, so he could have experienced fatherhood, and all the things that went with it.
         Angel pulled the appointment book away from the screen and looked out at Alex.
         “Alex, your presence has been requested at the security office.” Said Angel.
         “Thank you Angel, I’ll go there now.” Alex felt a little puzzled. “Was there any information given as to why?”
         “I’m sorry Alex, They just said that it was urgent.” Angel replied.
         “Ok.” Said Alex as he got up and went out the door
         The security office was the police station of their virtual world. They had realized that there would be disputes amongst the surrogates over the time that they would be together; they were human after all. They hadn’t experience quite as much as Alex had thought that they would, everything seemed to run pretty smoothly, and he was happy about that. Alex walked into the station and approached John Henson, the head officer.
         “What’s up John?”
         “It’s Bob Benet, he’s acting strange, and he’s going out of sync.” Replied John
         Alex was concerned; going out of sync meant that Bob was no longer totally within the simulation, no longer participating in the shared reality. This was the first one they had seen since the early experiments, Alex would be sad to lose someone now.
         “I’ll go to central and consult Freud.” Said Alex
         As Alex walked to the central control center, he remembered the early experiments. They had originally set the shared reality up so that you could choose to participate or not, the subjects could even impose a super reality on the shared one, making themselves supermen. They quickly discovered that giving the subject a choice limited the ability to participate; they needed to be dedicated solely to the shared reality for the whole thing to work. He got to central in record time and quickly entered the computer interface room. It was the same room he had been in earlier that morning, but as he entered he flipped a switch. The monitors that he had work with vanished and were replaced with a cozy library setting, including big smoking chairs. Alex sat on the one closest to the door and vocally commanded the system.
         “Freud please, and Einstein also.”
         Two older gentlemen materialized in the easy chairs across from Alex. Both of them were v-persons. When they had organized the crew they had also developed several v-persons to help them interface with the computer. In the right hand chair was sitting a man that resembled the famous genius Einstein. Einstein had been put together with all the material that they could dig up on the original; they built their Einstein as a monitor and interface for the computer core. In the left chair was a man that looked like an intelligent, but caring and understanding grandfather. They had built this one to monitor and interface with the holographic storage system. Since this construct needed to know not only the technical details of the system, but also the psychological details of the surrogates, they had named it Freud. These were the two most complicated and human-like v-persons they had ever developed. Alex had interacted with both for many years, and if he hadn’t had to summon them each time, he would have had a hard time remembering that they were programs and not real.
         “What is the trouble?” Asked Freud, in his most concerned tone.
         “One of the surrogates has gone out of sync. We need to do a full scan on his node,” replied Alex.
         “Yes, I see that Bob Benet is broadcasting anomalous readings. I will begin full scan and diagnostic now,” said Freud. He paused and his eyes went out of focus.
         Einstein had been watching both of them during the exchange. He had already pulled out his pipe and filled it. As Einstein struck the match to light his pipe he looked over at Alex; “And why did you request me Alex?”
         “I was thinking of the anomaly that was detected recently, could that have anything to do with this?”
         “It is possible, although it has been minimized. What would you like done?” Einstein inquired.
         “I know that this is probably overkill, but I’d like a total system diagnostic, could you run one now?” Suggested Alex.
         “I don’t think that this is really necessary, but I will start one now if it would help alleviate your worries.” With that Einstein’s eyes went out of focus.
         The wait was short. Freud’s eyes came into focus and he had a troubled look on his face. “Bob’s node has extensive corruption, I will not be able to rebuild it. I have taken it off line for the time being.”
         Alex looked at him, “Check the backups, let’s try to restore him.”
         Freud look turned sad, “all backups show signs of the corruption, that will not permanently fix the node.”
         “Even the original? The first one that we took on leaving the solar system?” Alex was incredulous.
         “Yes, all backups are showing the same signs of corruption.
         Alex couldn’t believe what he was hearing; Freud was condemning Bob to death, or an endless restore loop. He turned his attention to Einstein and noticed that Einstein was looking at him intently, almost as if he was studying his reactions.
         “Einstein, is there anyway we can get a transmission from earth? Could we get a copy of Bob from the store there?” Alex was feeling desperate.
         “There would be problems with that Alex, it would take a long time to upload that much data at this distance; and that Bob wouldn’t be the same even if we could do that.” Einstein said, still studying Alex.
         Alex was feeling uncomfortable, especially when he saw that Freud was looking at him in almost the same way.
         “I know, but it would better then just letting him die!”
         “Well, he’s not exactly alive now, is he? We have enough crew, we can accomplice our mission without him.” Einstein voice sounded cold.
         “He’s as alive as I am! We’ve all grown, become our own people, I’d hope that someone would try everything possible to save me if I was in his shoes.” Alex felt defensive.
         “There may be a way to recover Bob and take care of the corruption, if you’d be willing to try an experiment.” Said Freud.
         Alex just looked at Freud; he couldn’t fathom what he could be talking about. “What do you mean Freud? You said that all the backups were corrupt and I think that endlessly restoring Bob would be worse then letting him go.”
         Einstein answered; “well, in your early proposals, you talked about the possibility of downloading the needed skills and information directly into the surrogates. What if we took that one step further and re-wrote the corrupted part? From the scans I believe that we could do that without any overt changes to Bob’s personality. Especially if you and some of the others could help us.”
         Alex could just look at the v-persons in front of him in horror. They had just proposed performing brain surgery on Bob, removing part of him and replacing it with a computer program. He knew that it could be possible, but he also knew that he didn’t like the thought of it. Alex could remember that last day before they would leave, everyone who was going had to get downloaded, Bob had gone right before he did. He had been trying to convince Sam that she should go to, but Sam had always hated the concept. She had felt disturbed by the thought of a copy of herself existing somewhere. Sam had tried to stop Alex from going too. But in truth Alex had been excited by the prospect of colonizing a new world, of being one of those pioneers that made something out of nothing. Well at least having his surrogate do it. Of course the surrogate’s job wasn’t really to colonize the new planet, it was to get everything ready for the flesh and bloods to come and do it. He was starting to wonder if he had made the right choice.
         “There must be some other way, what you are suggesting is unacceptable, we would only be able to simulate the part that we would be replacing. Einstein, start the contact with Earth, let’s see if we can get something from them, maybe they’ve devised a better way of transmission in the last hundred years.” Alex was almost frantic.
         “We can’t do that Alex.” Einstein puffed on his pipe, appraising Alex's reaction. “There was severe damage to the communications array and we’ve lost all contact with Earth.”
         Alex stood quickly “What do you mean? How long has it been down? What damaged it?”
         “Sit down Alex, there is no need to panic.” Freud's calming voice cut through Alex's panic.
         “Freud’s right, there is no need to panic. The ship is intact and functioning fine, we are still on schedule and we will be able to achieve our objective without communications with Earth.” Placated Einstein.
         Alex sat down, but he was feeling dread welling up inside of him. “You didn’t answer my questions. How long has communications been down? Why wasn’t the crew notified?”
         Einstein looked at Alex closely. “Communications were damaged six months ago, by a photonic storm that was detected too late. The ship was subjected to intense photonic bombardment for approximately three days. The fierce currents ripped off the communications array, and the ship sustained other damage that has since been repaired. The crew was fully aware of the situation, and were actively trying to minimize the affects.”
         Alex had gotten back out of his chair as he listened to Einstein, and had started to pace in front of the v-persons. Things were starting to click into place for him, and he didn’t like the way that his thoughts were headed. He stopped pacing and turned towards the two men. “Why don’t I remember this? And what was the full extent of the damage?”
         Einstein stood, he had a remote in his hand and he pointed it at a wall. A movie screen came down out of the ceiling, in front of the wall.
         “The answer to your second question may clarify the answer to the first.”
         The screen lit up and a picture of the outside of the Nautilus was displayed. Just as Einstein had told him, the communications array was gone; he could see the twisted metal where it had been ripped from the side. There were a few other signs of damage on the hull, but nothing else seemed serious. The view rotated through a lock in the side of the ship and came out in a hallway. As the view proceeded through the hall there were very few signs of damage, but Alex had a suspicion of what was next.
         The view finally came into the computer core, Alex could see that the computer seemed to be operating, but there was something missing. As he studied the scene, he realized what it was. The backup holographic storage system was dark. He finally could make out some light from the equipment, but it was too faint, much too faint. The view went through the hatch into the primary HSS area and Alex knew what had happened.
         “The photonic storm penetrated the hull; it entered the core systems, didn’t it?” He said shaking.
         “Yes, the photonic energy overloaded the storage systems, causing major disruptions.” Replied Freud.
         “So the entire crew lost that segment of time?” Alex knew that there had to be more.
         “It’s a little more complicated then that.” Replied Freud. “The disruptions were severe, all the nodes lost cohesiveness, and as you saw, the backup storage system was hit as well. All the V-persons were destroyed. Since our patterns were hard coded in the main computer, the computer reloaded our patterns first into the repaired system. We then analyzed the damage to the primary and secondary storage system nodes and determined the best course of action.”
         “What did you do?” Alex was already afraid of the answer.
         “We recovered as much of each node's structure as we could, from all systems. We then reintegrated the structures using the recovered elements and all information stored for each surrogate. Unfortunately the reintegrated nodes were still incomplete, but we brought all of you back on line to see if you could be salvaged.” Explained Freud.
         Alex now understood the blank areas in his memories. He had just explained them away, but now he knew why they were there. He started to wonder about all his memories. A realization flashed.
         “Bob’s node is having problems; all of us are going to have problems, aren’t we?”
         “All the nodes have some corruption or missing patterns. We think that we can correct those issues, but we know that we need an element that we’ve never had; your ‘humanness’. We hope that you would work with us to add that element to the work.”
         Alex now knew the decision that he was being asked to make. “You’re asking me to help you reprogram the crew, or you will reload and reprogram us in the hope for a better outcome on the next round.”
         He was stuck; they were no longer the people that had been downloaded into this system. They had no right to take those people’s places, but if their mission was going to succeed, that is exactly what they would have to do. He wasn’t even sure that they had enough of the humanness left inside of them.
         Freud looked at Alex. “Actually, a reload is not an option. We really are at the end of our ability to improve your nodes and so a reload will not generate any change. This will be the only version of your structures. If you refuse to aid us, the surrogates will continue to exist in the virtual town, but because of the element of corruption in each of you, all surrogate nodes will be non-functioning by the time we reach our destination.
         Because of that, we have to consider an alternative,” puffed Einstein. “The computer and the v-persons can fabricate enough additional v-persons to attempt to complete the mission. The odds that we could be successful without you are fifty-fifty. The surrogates were put here because they have the flexibility in thought and action that may be needed at our destination. It’s the unknown factors that made your inclusion necessary.”
         The choices were now clear to Alex, either agree to help recreate the crew and possibly lose everything that made them human or damn them to a slow death. Alex knew what his answer should be; to fulfill their mission, but he didn’t know if he could go through with it. “What is the value of humanity?” He thought. His mental calculations kept giving him different answers.

The End

Copyright © 2003 by Radigast


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