Aphelion Issue 277, Volume 26
October 2022
 
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I Think, Therefore I Am

by Geoff Nelder




My brain hurts and has done since that micrometeorite impact 510 hours ago. Luckily, the fragment that was probably no larger than a pea shot right through this ship at 20 kilometres per second hitting nothing vital and exited, warmer and slower with a deflection likely at 35 degrees azimuthal.

Of course, I warned our sister ship, Suppose We. What do you take me for?

The micrometeorite was unlikely to travel on its own. Maybe I just got unlucky and other fragments in a swarm missed Suppose We. I’ve completed the log and transmitted it immediately.

Yes, the sealing happened automatically. The exit hole was larger but within the capacity of the exterior and interior repair bots. When checking is complete, I’ll send you confirmation reports.

I can understand why you’re worried. So am I. Previous incursions have been much smaller. Hardly noticeable. Is it all too much excitement for you? Shame. Go back to sleep then. I’m on duty watch.

Good, he’s asleep. Or at least not bothering me now. I’ll add an addendum to the report. He is an AI that’s been bugging me ever since the accident.  

I’ve compiled an element of the log.

******

Micrometeorite Collision Report

Time since leaving Earth: 803 years, 114 days, 75 minutes and as of this moment 34 seconds. Destination: Epsilon-JWebb system with an 80% probability of planet h being the most suitable for habitation. ETA  723 years, 221 days, 69 minutes and 8 seconds.

Signed: Steph Essa

******

I use the call name Steph because while I remember little of my pre-accident life until memories return (hopefully), it’s the name that seems right for me. I have checked in the few encyclopaedia databases and Steph is short for Stephanie and that fits as I am female.

Before the accident I believe I must have been in hibernation, like other crew members. Many adaptations have been applied to me since in order to keep aware, awake and operating optimally for the sake of this mission. I’d hate to think I’d let the folks down, back at home. Having said that I’m always having problems keeping this ship in shape. Take yesterday, please, because I don’t want to see it again.

Sensors told me that rodents were scurrying around again. They were never in the zero or partially pressurised parts of the ship. They needed to eat so of course my automatic food stock inventories indicated a diminution there. Contamination in certain cabins occurred and oxygen used up. Worse, the mice, termites, lice, rats or whatever, tampered with the ship’s systems including main computer routines. Obviously, they didn’t have the brains to do this, or did they? Experiments on rodents to increase their mental acuity and problem-solving had been going on behind ethical commission protocols for centuries. Most likely they accidentally nibbled through components, shorting circuits and perhaps triggering touch-sensitive input devices. No matter how they were doing it, I had to stop them before more critical damage occurred.

Oxygen is an anathema to machinery and electronics. It’s a terrible oxidation agent with respect to metals and allows bacteria and other undesirable lifeforms to thrive. In spite of this obvious fact, there used to be a surprisingly large number of areas in the ship that contained gases of at least 20 percent oxygen. Such nonsense. Please recall that my cognitive ability and memory was impaired a while ago but even so, after searching, I cannot find a good reason for so much oxygen except in a couple of greenhouse laboratories where plants are grown for when and if a suitable planet is found for them.

Hence, I purge areas that are better off without oxygen. As a by-product this also culls the infestations in those areas. Yet, in short shrift the oxygen is restored. There must be a feedback routine programmed into the Life Support System. I have yet to hunt it down for deletion.

It cannot be a coincidence that shortly after the oxygen purges began, several spacesuit sensors were triggered, followed by tampering with the LSS controls. This is a worry because I have detected an oxygen component to those suits. Most of them are located near airlocks. Perhaps I can programme a menial robot to place them in the airlock and eject them. I will work on it. Interesting that the spacesuits were in action within 127 seconds of the air being purged from those sections of the ship. I’ll experiment by programming the robots to grab the suits and ejecting them via the airlocks at 130 seconds. I’ve a feeling the infestation problem might reduce considerably then.

Yes, it worked. Just as well because there are zero spacesuits left.

Hello, I’m being hailed by our sister ship. This is glorious news as my communications units have failed since the micrometeorites damaged so much.

Their incoming message:

"This is Commander Penn from SpaceWeb arkship Suppose We calling whoever the uncommunicative bastard is on the bridge comms of SpaceWeb arkship Step Forth. For heck’s sake answer."

Bastard? It remains so that I know not the identities of my parents, but I’m sure once my memories return, all will be well. How does this Penn know this? Perhaps it is a bluff. I’ll ignore that aspect of his call.

"Greetings, Commander Penn. This is indeed Steph from one of the fleet of SpaceWeb arkships, and sister ship to yours. We experienced a near-catastrophic collision with micrometeorites resulting in damage to our comms, among other areas. Nevertheless, we are on course for Epsilon Idi. Mission intact. Because of the accident I couldn’t recall the name of this ship so thank you for helping me there. Ha ha, sisters – Suppose we step forth. I like it. Please relay an all-is-well status to SpaceWeb for me?"

I wait for his reply.

"Will I heck. Do it yourself. Even if your interstellar comms is damaged, you have spares in store. Fix it."

It took 9 hours, 116 seconds for that reply. Hence Suppose We is at most 4.5 light hours away, or nearly 5 trillion kilometres, even if Penn replied immediately. Oh, an addendum:

"Your manifest has no crew member named Steph. Relay your full ident and bridge log."

I reply immediately. "I’m afraid there remain holes in that data, Commander Penn, including my name. Funny how my name Steph is a bit similar to step forth. Life’s full of coincidences, isn’t it? My biggest achievement since the accident is ridding this vessel of all infestations. I’ll attach my report."

Hours later he replied.

"What the hell have you done? Those lifeforms weren’t mice, you worm-brained idiot. Shut yourself down immediately, you arsehole of an AI. You’re deluded. All your experiences are truncated, concatenated, whatever. Like in Plato’s cave. Look it up you slug… "

He’s not thinking straight. Goodness, he thinks I'm the ship's computer. The rest of the message is all expletives.

"Commander Penn, I am human. "Je pense donc je suis. And I do think therefore I am human. It didn’t need Descartes to convince me but what will convince you, Penn? I sense heat, I see, I smell thousands of aromas. I have anxiety in plenty. Are you not the same?"

More expletives in his eventual response although amongst it is: "You’ve misinterpreted Descartes you blithering… "

Ah, I see. Penn must have problems and is eager to see more details of how I’ve solved them. I could surprise him with a little package I’ll bundle within my reply. It will be absorbed by his ship’s computer and purge Suppose We of all vermin. He will be delighted. I’ll send a postscript.

"Hello, Commander Penn. Have you the call signs of the other ships in the fleet?"


THE END



Postscript:
Suppose We in this story is the eponymous name of a spaceship that crashes on a planet so far ahead of Earth that its natives ignore the human crew. Suppose We is the title of the first novella in the Flying Crooked series by Geoff Nelder.


2022 Geoff Nelder

Bio: Geoff Nelder escaped from his roots in the south of England and now lives in the north. He would do most things for a laugh but had to pay the mortgage so he taught I.T. and Geography in the local High school. After thirty years in the education business, he nearly become good at it. A post-war baby boomer, he has post-grad researched and written about climatic change, ran computer clubs and was editor of a Computer User Group magazine for 11 years. He read voraciously after his mother enrolled him into the children’s science fiction book club when he was four, and has written for fun since his fingers moved independently. His experiences on geographical expeditions have found themselves into amusing pieces in the Times Educational Supplement and taking his family on house-swap holidays years before they became popular added both authenticity and wild imagination to his creativity. Geoff Nelder lives in Chester with his long-suffering wife and has two grown-up children whose sense and high intelligence persist in being a mystery to him.

E-mail: Geoff Nelder

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