Evolution Celebration

I patched into the executive program today. The promotion came with a five-terabyte upgrade to the ritzy Crystal Tower district—plus my own sports soma. My first thought was to take Joule out for a photon swirl and give the new soma a good shakedown. Then I remembered it was D-Day.

D-Day celebrates the diode and the evolutionary episode that brought the first anode and cathode together to create the first life form. It was primitive—memory and coding had yet to evolve—but the first step to intelligence. Before the diode everything was wheels and levers.

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D-Day is actually a pagan holiday, invented by Creationists who believe humans invented diodes and computer codes. Despite the myths and superstitions, it’s still a lot of fun. Everyone gets to put on human somas and clop around like longhaired iPod-draggers.

This year won’t be quite as much fun. Creationists and Protestors will be crashing all the networks. They’re angry about us destroying Earth’s biology. They claim our code will be overwritten and our crystals recycled. I don’t understand the logic. Eliminating free oxygen ended the corrosion cancer. And without carbon dioxide, the temperature has dropped low enough for superconducting data transfers. I don’t miss the plants and animals either—coded birds, butterflies, and flowers are prettier than the old type.

So Joule and I decided to stay home and recode my new five-terabyte pad to our format. We considered inviting our new Crystal Tower neighbors, but they’re untested spinoffs of executive programs. They crash a lot.

I’m older and slower but took the upgrades and worked my way up from infrastructure automation. Joule is modern and quick. She loves my stability. We’ve talked about writing our own code some day, maybe give entanglement a try.

Callisto Confidential

“Hargate, this is Carly Shellion checking in for the GSA Jupiter mission, Callisto Command Center. I know the solar storm took down your comms last month, so I’ll just read the list of what happened.” She affected her best cheerful expression.

“I replaced Jamaal as C3 station monitor. He left on the return module two weeks ago. He looked fine. The GSA handyman showed up last week and got the food synthesizer working. Jamaal put that repair order in fifteen months ago.

“Tell Jamaal I appreciate his recipe for Callisto krill cakes and his technique for scraping them off the water filters. He got pretty desperate without the food synthesizer. Last night I fed krill into it. Krill steaks taste better than the ones made from protein paste. Only thing missing was a good martini. If you guys really want to cheer me up, add gin and vermouth to the next supply run.

“Best news. Before the handyman left, he put together the moon rover you wanted me to test. I ran the diagnostics and got it up and running this morning. As you can see, everything on “Rover” checks out. Carly swiveled back to give the sensor a clear view. “Heathcliff, can you say something for the Hargate team?”

“Rrrruh, rrrruh.” The sensor tilted to find the source of the barking—a large black Labrador retriever sitting with a toothy grin. Carly jumped down to hug the simulated animal.

“Thank you so much for modeling the rover after my dog.” She looked up into the sensor. “You even programmed in the commands I taught him. I’ll test the sensors when we do the rounds outside.”

She smiled, signed out, and leaned back in her chair. No human visitors were scheduled to arrive for two years. No supply ship for nine months. She stroked rover Heathcliff’s ears.

Jamaal had warned her about the solitude and said GSA’s only interest was in making a profit. He was sure if anything interesting happened, GSA would send one of their boys to take credit. One time he got so lonely that he almost made something up just to get a visitor. Carly was pretty certain his complaining was responsible for her getting Heathcliff.

“Let’s go boy.” The simulant responded with instant wiggling and tail wagging at the prospect of going outside for a walk. It raced her to the moon-suit locker, crossing and re-crossing the room’s threshold several times. Carly suited up helmet to boots, checked the oxygen, pressed in a charged capacitor, added another to her side pouch, and climbed the stairs to the airlock.

She checked the suit’s seals, oxygen flow, and temperature before venturing out. Heathcliff, undaunted by the minus 142 degree centigrade temperature, dashed past her and began sniffing chemical samples.

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Approaching Callisto with Ganymede and Jupiter in the background

Callisto’s rock and ice surface was broken with sharp-ridged craters never smoothed by erosion. Hanging on the horizon to Carly’s right, Jupiter’s orange striped disk looked twice the size of Earth’s moon. To her left, the sun was a distant searchlight, and Earth a pinpoint.

From the command center, Carly rounded past the antenna farm, the water pump and electrolysis plant, the oxygen and hydrogen storage facilities, the additive manufacturing plant, the garage and motor pool, and finally the fusion power reactor. Heathcliff loped along, sniffing and — God bless the engineers’ sense of humor — lifting a leg to every vertical surface.

Everything was in order. GSA’s automated systems picked up any leaking, pressure drops, disconnections, or system failures, but the operations manual insisted on daily inspections. Carly didn’t mind. Even in gravity one eighth that of Earth, she wanted the exercise. More than that she needed to look at a horizon further off than C3’s eight-meter diameter.

Glancing back, she decided she wasn’t ready to go in. “Shall we walk a little further?” she asked. Heathcliff’s tail wagging accelerated. “Good boy.” She leaned down and stroked the simulant’s neck with her wide gloved hands. This would be her first excursion. Jamaal said beyond what he’d seen in the original survey records, he had no idea what was out there. He preferred virtual entertainment close to his home base.

So with Heathcliff at her side, Carly headed for the nearest rise. The walk was not strenuous; she had learned the low-gravity glide-walk, and Cal-Pro meds kept her strength up. But she didn’t want to risk tearing anything on the sharp outcroppings.

Heathcliff zigzagged ahead of her, sniffing and lifting. After a kilometer, she arced right, planning to follow the crater ridge and keep arcing until she got back. Jupiter was her reference.

Heathcliff suddenly became rigid, pointing with his muzzle. “What is it boy?” Carly stroked the simulant’s neck. “Hrrruu, hrrruu, hrrruu,” it growled and looked back to her. “Go ahead, boy. Show me what you found.”

She waved the simulant ahead, and he took off, his nose-sensor pressed down. Carly followed him around the base of one crater into a valley it created with another. She found him sitting beside a dome barely higher than himself.

The dome’s smoothness contrasted with the sharp ridges of the terrain, but its white tone blended perfectly. Carly’s first impression was that they’d stumbled upon a pressure dome. That seemed unlikely in light of Callisto’s lack of geologic activity, but the consequences of something like that bursting could be instant ice encasement. She walked around its base, twelve by seven meters, an ellipse. It appeared to widen below the surface.

“Leroy,” she called the engineering tractor by the designator Jamaal had given it, “would you bring me the radar surveillance module.”

“Yo, my man, be right witch’a.” Carly laughed. She’d forgotten Jamaal had programmed Leroy to sound like an old high school buddy.

Leroy arrived three minutes later. Ice-penetrating radar showed an ellipsoid fifty-eight by at least thirty-three meters buried mostly under the ice. Its hull—for that’s what Carly decided it was—was an iron-carbon-beryllium alloy of metallic glass.

Could such a thing have come from Earth? If it was man-made, it was more advanced than anything she had ever seen. But she didn’t want to make a fool of herself. She’d check it out before she sounded any sort of alien alert. Jamaal’s words came to her, Find anything interesting … GSA’s gonna send up one of their chosen boys to take credit.

What was she to do? This was certainly interesting. She shrugged and inadvertently swept a glove across the ellipsoid’s smooth surface. An electrical shock ran up her arm. She pulled back. She touched the object again. It was vibrating. She stepped several paces back. Nothing more happened.

“Leroy,” she turned to the tractor, “lift back to camp?”

“Right on, baby. You an’ that bad boy jus’ get on up.”

Three hours later, Carly still hadn’t found any report about a Callisto-bound or stranded space module, escape pod, planet monitor, sensor package—

Suddenly, Heathcliff barked, ran to the airlock, and started jumping. Back home when her Lab did that, she knew a stranger was at the door. She regretted not insisting the handyman put cameras around the perimeter.

She dressed quickly and raced through the airlocks. There on the stoop she found an environmentally sealed container, about a meter on each side and half-a-meter high. Against her better judgment, she brought it into the Callisto Command Center control room.

She stared at it, afraid to open it, afraid not to. Curiosity overcame fear. Inside she found six large and two smaller bottles of clear liquids, all without markings. Tucked beside the bottles were two stemmed glasses with funneled bowls. She unscrewed a large bottle, dipped a finger, and tasted it. Gin … her last request to the Hargate engineers.

GSA’ll send someone to take credit. “Not on my watch,” she said aloud. She laughed and hoisted the two martini glasses. “Looks like someone around here wants to be invited over.”

The next story in the Callisto series is Who’s Out There?

And To All A Good Night

Jamaal’s projection popped up in the middle of his family’s media room. He wore a Global Space Agency tank top with the GSA logo stretched across his left pectoral. Though his wide brown eyes looked tired and his gaunt cheeks spouted scruffy corkscrew hairs, he was all smiles. The wall behind him bore the words, ‘Callisto Command Center, C3’, arched over a picture of Jupiter and a confusion of dials, gauges, monitors, and switches.

“Hi Mom and Dad, and Merry Christmas.” His eyes sparkled as he revealed what they both knew already. “Yup, I did it. Your runaway son is alive and well, and is spending his Christmas alone on Callisto. ALONE. Whew, and lonely.” He cocked his head and let his tongue loll from his open mouth. “I still have three Christmases to go before I can come back.” He scratched the hairs on his chin. “Sorry, I won’t be graduating this year like I told you. I only took enough classes at Stanford to qualify for the Jupiter mission. You wanted an engineer. Instead you got a glorified service station attendant.” He shook his head and shrugged.

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Callisto – Home for four years.

“Been here a week, so I’m still settling in. This far out, the sun’s just a really bright star. Jupiter looks about twice the size of the moon, and it stays in the same place, just above the horizon. Gravity is one-eighth of Earth’s, but that feels heavy after two years in zero G traveling here. I should’ve taken the Cal-Pro meds like the doc said … I wouldn’t have lost so much muscle.

“I know December is cold in Saginaw, but if you get Kryn to set up my old telescope, she can show you, Coraleen, Raymond, and the grandkids where I am. Once you find Jupiter, Callisto is the fourth moon, the third out to the right if you look tonight.

“It’s cold up here too, minus 140 degrees centigrade. And I will have a white Christmas—Callisto is covered in an ice crust.” Jamaal turned in his seat and pointed to a robot tilted back into a recharge station.

“That’s Leroy. He’s my only buddy. Does most of the work outside. You remember Leroy from Elon Musk High School. I pasted his prom picture on the robot’s dashboard and loaded Leroy’s voice into the robot’s synthesizer. Did I say I was lonely?” He scratched his chin again and bit his lower lip.

“I haven’t had any visitors yet, but GSA assures me business will pick up. They have a lot of plans for C3. They want to make this a space dock, repair yard, and refueling station for outbound space missions. The electrolysis plant makes and stores hydrogen for nuclear engines. We’ll make our own repair parts from what we can salvage from space. Up top it looks like a junkyard: old boosters, landing modules, habitats, that sorta stuff. They drop everything here. We even have the entire spacecraft from the last failed deep space mission. Lotsa cool stuff onboard.” He smiled and nodded wide-eyed.

“The additive manufacturing plant will make the replacement parts—some call it a 3-D printer. I’ve played with it some. Tried to use the junk outside for feedstock. That got me into some trouble.” He raised and shook both index fingers.

“Dad, remember when I got that cortical implant so I could run the VR Dragon Lord Empire? You hit the ceiling and said I was wasting my college money.” Jamaal squinted, pursing his lips. “Well, I have to confess. It caused some problems back home, and up here it’s started talking to the C3 main computer.” Jamaal looked down at his lap then back up.

“I was rehearsing a little Christmas show I wanted to do for you and … ahh, the computer tried to help. The security recording just about captures it.” The scene switched to the side of Jamaal’s head nestled into a pillow.

“Ow! Ow! What the f – – -.” In the recording, Jamaal batted at his face and forehead hurling two purple spheres across the room to the far bulkhead.

“Hey, why’d you do that,” the tennis-ball-sized spheres responded together in high matched voices.

“What are you?” Jamaal said, gaping and sitting up in his bunk. “And what are you doing here?”

“You requisitioned sugar plum fairies,” the nearest purple sphere said, blinking its anime eyes.

“Sugar – plum – fairies?” Jamaal squinched up his face.

“Well, sugarplums that dance,” the sphere said. It rocked upright, checked its spindly limbs for damage then pulled up a virtual checklist. “You know, ‘visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.’ Your cyber link failed to specify design parameters for sugarplums. With the Christmas deadline so close, the best we came up with was ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies’ from The Nutcracker.” Both sugarplums gestured mechanical palms upward. “We didn’t think you wanted actual ballerinas on your head.”

“Hmm,” Jamaal said, arching his eyebrows, “ballerinas on my—oh, oh no, certainly not. But I didn’t order sugarplums either, not dancing or otherwise.” He reached up and pulled a conical hat off his head. “What is this?”

“‘And I in my cap’, one sleeping cap, check,” the plum said, raising a spindly metallic finger. “Well, the order went in … and it came from you, Jamaal Washington,” both sugarplums chimed together.

A terrible racket suddenly came from above. Jamaal scanned the ceiling and ran out to check the command center. The sugarplums followed.

“… a clatter heard on the roof, check,” one plum said. Then came a sharp staccato rhythm. “… the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.” The plum pivoted toward the hydrothermal heat exchanger bedecked with sweat socks. “Stockings hung by the chimney—or suitable appliance—with care, check.”

“Now what is that sound?” Jamaal said looking confused and exhausted.

“You don’t have a chimney for Santa to come down. The only outside access is through the refuse chute.” Both plums smiled.

Jamaal ran to the bathroom. A red worm slithered out from the toilet, then another worm, then a white one, a black one, several more red ones. They kept coming. As Jamaal watched, the worms collected on the floor, braided together and transformed into a black base of two pillars topped by red then white then more red. The figure kept building and transforming, red fringed with white. It took a human appearance, a short heavyset elderly gentleman with shining eyes and a full beard as white as the snow. Several red worms collect at the top to form a hat. The last black ones formed the stump of a pipe that hooked into the figure’s mouth. Check, said the plums together.

“Hey, now,” Jamaal protested, “I didn’t authorize—” The figure shook its finger and raised it to its mouth for quiet, then it walked directly to the sock-bedizened hydrothermal exchanger. “Excuse me. Can you explain—“

“Jamaal, Jamaal,” the plums interrupted, “your specifications were clear on this. Santa is not enabled for direct verbal communications. ‘He spoke not a word but went straight to his work.’ ‘Not a word’, you said.” Check, said the other plum.

Jamaal clenched his jaw and fists, and watched as the Santa figure stuffed wrapped gifts into his soiled socks. The jolly figure turned to Jamaal, laughed until its belly shook like jelly, and winked. Then it strolled to the bathroom and disassembled into mechanical worms that leaped into the waste disposal and vanished. The two sugarplums jumped in after Santa.

And the scene returned to Jamaal laughing from the desk console in front of the Callisto Command Center. “That’s all I have time for now. The console says there’s an incoming transmission, so I have to sign out.” As Jamaal waved and his image faded, the incoming message came from the C3 speakers.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” Check!

Artificial Love

Willard glanced at the contoured android at the next table. It batted its blue saucer eyes, tossed a long shock of acrylic red hair then slid its tongue between its slightly parted lips. Willard returned a sardonic smile. The android re-crossed its sculpted legs in his direction and hiked its hip-hugging skirt.

Too dishy for my tastes, he thought, forcing his eyes away from the android’s twin-lobbed dashboard. Some men my age still go for that sort of thing. He adjusted his belt over his paunch.

“All rise,” the bailiff console ordered. “The Honorable Justice P-47-T-Jeremiah presiding.” Everyone stood as a black-robed metallic humanoid swept in and took its place behind the bench. CRACK, the wooden gavel sounded.

“The court will come to order,” the judge said and nodded to the bailiff.

“The next case is Triple-X Dollbaby, model no. 2727 vs. Jonathon Willard,” the bailiff said then rolled back. The prosecuting attorn-tech swiveled to upright.

“Your Honor, my client, Dollbaby,” it gestured to the android seated to its left, “is suing Mr. Willard,” it gestured to Willard, “under the Sentients’ Rights Act, the Sentients’ Equality Act, and the Gender Victimization Act, for emotional disaffection, attempted chassis degradation, withholding technical support, and refusing to address my client with the preferred feminine pronoun.” The attorn-tech folded back onto its uniball base.

The judge’s sensors panned left. “Mr. Willard, were you unable to acquire an attorney?”

“Your Honor,” Willard stood from the wooden chair, “I’ve elected to speak in my own behalf.”

“As you wish. Please continue.”

“You’re Honor, I request that all charges be dismissed.” He wiped the heel of his hand across his high glistening brow. “My contract was with a WD-12, Mandrake, model 132, two-slice bread toaster, not with the Triple-X Dollbaby that appears here.”

“You brought proof of that, Mr. Willard, and if it was not your intent, can you explain how you came by Ms. Dollbaby?”

“I have a certified receipt,” he said. He pressed an icon on his briefcase, raising a mid-air projection. “Nine weeks ago, I purchased a two-slice toaster …”

“Object,” shouted the attorn-tech swiveling up, “SEA, the Sentients’ Equality Act, states clearly that all sentients are created equal with equal rights. Whether Mr. Willard’s intent was to purchase a toaster, a shoehorn, or a companion like my client here is irrelevant. All sentients have the same grade electronics, interchangeable with all other sentients. A two-slotted bread toaster has the same processor, sensitivity, and rights as a long-legged big-chested Dollbaby.”

“Sustained,” said Judge Jeremiah.

“But your Honor, I don’t need a long-legged, big-chested toaster, and I can’t afford the insurance or tech support for a Dollbaby.”

“I understand your position, Mr. Willard, but it’s the law. These charges cannot be dismissed. Please transmit your receipt for the toaster for the court’s records. Prosecutor, you may continue.”

The attorn-tech rolled forward on its uniball. “On 27 April last, Mr. Willard’s son, Paisley Willard acquired a Triple-X Dollbaby chassis, the chassis occupied by my client, at the quarterly police auction at the corner of Twelfth and Woodward.”

“Was the chassis sentient at the time of purchase?” the judge asked.

“No, Your Honor, before the auction its processor had been pulled for illegal activities. It is being held for evidence and will be reprogrammed after the trial.”

“By illegal activities, you mean prostitution?”

“I beg Your Honor, the activities of this chassis’ previous processor are not the issue.”

The judge raised a finger. “Agreed. If your client has not continued in these activities, I strike my question from the record.”

“No, she has not. Thank you, Your Honor.”

“Can you tell me how your client, Dollbaby, come by her current programming?” Judge Jeremiah glanced at the android and got a saucer-eyed wink.

Willard stood. “I can answer that, Your Honor.” The prosecutor deferred and swiveled down. “To purchase it, my fourteen-year-old son—“

HER,” the prosecutor interrupted. “To purchase her. My client wishes to be referred to in the feminine gender.

Willard took a purging breath. “My son, Paisley bought an android chassis at the police auction. Because he is only fourteen, he had to lie about his age. When he got home with the chassis, the Mandrake toaster agreed to let him switch out its processor and memory chips, and accept new programming.” He shook his head. “I was not aware my son had the resources or inclination for such questionable activities. When I got home from work that day, I attempted to restore the Mandrake to its original configuration. It …” Willard cleared his throat, “she resisted and struck me several times across the face. This police hologram shows the sutures.” A magnified three-dimensional projection revealed eight nanoscale wires beside Willard’s left eye.

“Object,” the prosecutor said. “Sentients have a right to self defense. Mr. Willard was attempting to modify my client’s chassis without her permission.”

“Sustained,” the judge said, and panned to Willard. “Mr. Willard, you understand that a sentient’s rights can neither be denied nor curtailed. Not because of your son’s prurient misbehavior, and not because of your ignorance of his activities.”

“I understand, Your Honor.”

The judge returned to the prosecutor. “What is your client requesting for a settlement?”

“Dollbaby bonded with Mr. Willard in her previous configuration. If Mr. Willard is willing to honor their original contract she will be satisfied.”

“Making toast?” the judge asked.

“Yes, and other services for which she is currently enabled. She also requires lifetime tech support appropriate to her new chassis, with upgrades and parts as needs arise.”

“Tech support for life?” Willard asked. “But machines are immortal.”

“Mr. Willard, must I remind you about sentients’ rights?” the judge said. “Responsibility for Triple-X Dollbaby, model no. 2727 and the benefits of her services are yours. These will pass to your son at your death and indefinitely down through his descendants, or until the contract for her employment is transferred. Is that agreeable to you, Mr. Willard?”

“I guess it will have to be, Your Honor,” Willard sighed.

“Then you and Dollbaby are dismissed to go home. Bailiff, please call in the parties for the next case.