by Paul Michael Moreau
I guess by now you know what's going down at Ascension. All
non-essential personnel evacuated back to Hopes Gap. We wait with mixed
feelings of excitement and trepidation. Not knowing when I'll get the
chance to send another dispatch, I present an update on my
investigation of the Sapien2Corp operation.
I met with Chen, their local chief executive at an office under Tuomi's main dome.
"I’m telling you, Travis, they've all gone," he said.
"We can't understand it. Nothing like this has ever happened before."
"I'll need exclusive access, that’s standard procedure."
The unit floated in the thick atmosphere of Tuomi, largest planet in
the Ascension system. I took my analytical assistant. Huey is a squat
grey box on wheels, streaming data to my neural receptor.
Inspection of Suite B9 verified Chen's claims. The newborns all
gone, leaving no trace. Two NurseBots destroyed and the third, 564XE2,
Most mature humans dislike these places. Reprocessing those first
memories is disturbing. But it is necessary to go into the essentials
of this type.
Ten birthing suites extend like spokes of a wheel from an automated
central core. Here, docking bays handle outbound transfers, incoming
supplies, the frequent emptying of waste tanks.
Each suite contains one hundred growth chambers linked to DNA banks.
These support the embryonic through adult phases of development and
education. In this case, that for workers but the most advanced
education is also available. The growth process takes time analogous to
nine Earth months, an unintended irony.
Once the adult newborns emerge from their chambers, they undergo
acclimatization in dormitories until ready to ship out. During this
post-birth phase, something went very wrong in B9.
I observed that the suites making up the unit are self-contained. No
exchange of NurseBots. They share only the facilities of the central
core. The bots are of the gliding type, fitted with appendages
analogous to human arms.
There are no known instances of major malfunction. It may be
possible to hack the bots. This requires specialized knowledge and
equipment unavailable here. In any case, with crime all but eliminated,
that’s a very long shot. No robot has rebelled since the Ceres Uprising
two hundred years ago, a testament to the Humans First policy and
constraints on artificial intelligence.
I found the two NurseBots disassembled, their components hidden in
various storage spaces. Huey produced an extensive report on the
attempted erasure of data systems. The suite was very low on hygiene
supplies including disinfectants and sterilizing fluids.
A shuttle, sent to the unit to collect acclimatized newborns from
another suite, was missing. It is possible that one hundred newborns
squeezed inside. The chances of them breaking the programmed flight
pattern and taking control are near zero.
At the time, I believed that, after rampaging, the newborns gained
control of the surviving and possibly damaged bot. They used their
captive to pass through a series of doors to access the shuttle. Some
error in the education process led to an exponential increase in
intelligence and awareness of their situation.
We discovered the shuttle flew to a fleet repair ship using a valid
transponder code. There, they stole a jump-capable corvette, another
sign of erroneous education.
I got the call from Chen shortly after arriving at the Galactika
Hotel. He wanted to see me. A second call changed the picture. The
local security service told me they'd found something particularly
nasty at a waste management plant.
As I passed through reception on my way to Chen's office, Huey sent
through the results of an analysis of the education program. Using
recovered and repaired data, he discovered an anomaly. An extra
connection, patched through the operating system update receiver used
for the bots. The obvious, though inexplicable, conclusion was that a
NurseBot gained access.
Chen was having none of it. I ran through the scenario three times.
“We are looking for one or more renegade humans,” he insisted.
“They all died, analysis at the waste plant makes that a near certainty. I’ll have confirmation any moment.”
“Take me through it again, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say or do.”
This is what I told him.
For reasons unknown, nursing robot 564XE2 accessed every module of
the learning program. Due to the differences between augmented human
and robotic intelligence, the effect of absorption is unclear. Serious
corruptions may have occurred. My assistant is modeling 564XE2’s new
Clever Nursie then decided to disable and dismantle the other two
robots and conceal their components. I assume it now regarded them as
different and some form of threat.
It killed each of the new humans, most likely as each exited their
growth chambers during birth. It disposed of the dismembered remains
via the waste system. It then cleansed 9B, preserving sterility, a
vestige of its original programming.
Our murderous bot waited for the arrival of the shuttle. It locked
all doors via the emergency central override. It then gained full
control, flying to the repair ship where it stole the corvette and set
course for an unknown destination. This remains the most remarkable
aspect of the case, beyond the capabilities of any newborn.
Something else has happened during my stay: a survey ship sent to
observe an approaching asteroid. All hell broke loose on its return.
The unknown object approaching Ascension’s outermost planet is a
large vessel. Not one of ours. No traces of life on board. It retreated
by the time the navy got there. They found the missing corvette in
orbit, without 564XE2 on-board.
We were complacent in believing near space uninhabited, ours for the
taking. 564XE2 has new and possibly non-biological friends. Thanks to
Sapien2Corp, they know as much about us as we know ourselves.
© 2019 Paul Michael Moreau
Paul Michael Moreau is an I.T. and health care professional
living on the south coast of the United Kingdom and currently writing
in various speculative fiction genres. His short fiction has appeared
in Unsung Stories Shorts, Perihelion Science Fiction, and Aphelion
Find more by Paul Michael Moreau in the Author
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.