Aphelion Issue 239, Volume 23
May 2019
 
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Ascension

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.

"The newborns?"

"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, missing.

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 state.

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 amongst others.

Find more by Paul Michael Moreau in the Author Index.

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