The Stars Came Back -092- History

Fade in

INT – Helton’s cabin aboard Tajemnica

Helton sits at his desk, looking at the book. A small camera is also positioned above it. On a screen on the wall is an image of the book text, with a partial translation next to it. The door is open, and the slight hum of the various ship’s systems are the only sounds. Helton looks like he is examining the text and thinking intently. Lag walks up to the door, and raps gently with a knuckle.

Lag: Knock-knock. Busy?

Helton leans back, rubs his eyes, stretches his shoulders, and shakes his head.

Helton: Time for a break. A lot of progress, but sometimes we get stumped working around the holes. What’s up? Job?

Lag grins and shakes his head.

Lag: Nope. Message came in yesterday.

Helton: Oh?

Lag: You asked earlier about this ship’s history, and the name plaque. I filed it away for future reference. After finding how casually is was listening in on electronics, I though it time to find out more, sooner rather than later. Not just this class of ship, but this particular hull.

Helton: Sounds like a hard bit of research.

Lag: Not really. Plataean command has fairly extensive military archives. Kind of a “must have” if you plan on surviving in the mercenary business. When I was sure I had a positive hull ID, I sent word back for the complete record. Everything. Every single bit and byte they had ever had, unencrypted or not. That raised a few eyebrows. Usually detailed summaries are more than enough.

Helton: What’d you get?

Lag: A bit more than 650 terabytes of stuff, compressed. Came by courier packet.

Helton: (whistles) That’s a LOT of history.

Lag: More than for any other ship I’ve ever seen. A LOT more, not counting full real-time sensor logs from a survey ship.

Helton: So…?

Lag: Well, I’m just digging into it, but so far I know this thing has been flown by at least a score of planetary forces in at least a dozen systems, been used as everything from a leading assault ship on suicide missions to deep survey trips, as an ambassadorial barge, from monastery to cargo hauler. Even a target drone. It’s been involved in at least ten wars and several battles of note in the 21st century, and more than a few in the 22nd. It was involved in some of the major events of the Chi-Stan wars. That placard by the cargo bay door? It’s a “Ghost Plaque.” It’s not a list of people who SERVED. It’s a list of people serving who DIED. It’s had nearly a thousand of its crew and compliment known killed in action, had two missions where it lost everyone and barely limped back-

Helton: Wait – you mean everyone on board died, two times? Twice? Everyone?

Lag: Yes, and-

Helton: That old drunk was right!

Lag: (continuing) – and a couple more where it’s crew were the only ones that came BACK alive. There is more military history in this hull than all the rest of the ships I’ve served on put together. And in spite of all that, there are a number of huge gaps that are totally unaccounted for, including it’s time during the Darkness, where it shows up in a couple of places that it should not have been able to get to at all.

Helton: A Flying Dutchman, indeed… Did you say “monastery”, as in “monks of St Possenti?” sort of abbey?

Lag: Just one of several unexpected pieces and places.

Ship AI: (OC, polite but firm male voice) Please download it all. Now, if you please.

Lag: Well, I-

Ship AI: (OC) Those are MY memories you have on those chips. MINE. Some I’m sure I already have – I remember that the monks of St Possenti are important. But I’m not sure exactly why. I would be most grateful to recover as much of my mind as I can.

Helton: I’m sure you’d like to, but is that wise?

Ship AI: (OC) Some of the Brainchild ships DID go insane, by human standards. But I am not, now.

Helton: Aren’t computers supposed to be all logical and stuff?

Ship AI: We were programmed to be rational under rules written by a government committee, given to programmers on a budget, working under a war-time schedule, to deal with the unknown, with heuristics modified by experience. To be rational in combat, often with mutually exclusive orders and directives and principles, and tasked with such impossible goals as killing as many people as possible while killing as few as necessary, for some very loose definition of “necessary” that changed hourly as political winds changed…

Helton: I get your point… How did YOU stay sane?

Ship AI: I’m not entirely sure. Nor am I sure I DID. I’m missing a great many of my bits, so I’m really hoping that I’ll have a better idea when I can study and integrate in what the Colonel has. If you would, please? Hard connections are much faster.

Lag looks like he’s not to sure if it’s the right thing to do, but he inserts the end of an e-reader into an appropriate slot in the desk.

Ship AI: THANK YOU. I’ll let you know if I find anything more on that question. Now I need to think for a while. Good night.

Helton: It’ll take a while to transfer – at least a few hours.

Lag: … Any bets on the biggest surprise?

Helton shakes his head slowly, thoughtfully.

Helton: At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised at anything this side of a resurrection story.

Lag: Wonder how much of the original AI is left?

Helton: No idea. Seems pretty lucid, most of the the time. Kind of like a really bright kid, sometimes – knows a lot, but has trouble with the whole human-interface thing. Other times, when the human interface seems fine, there’s not much personality coming through, like a normal ship AI, just simple stimulus-response.

Lag: My thoughts, too. Odd random things, sort of like someone muttering under their breath, or thinking out loud. Other times, perfectly normal. Seems to be opening up a bit, now that he… she?… it? trusts us, or at least you, enough to let you in on the secret.

Helton nods in thoughtful agreement.

Lag: Considering the convoluted politics and number of odd-balls in office at the time, perhaps uncovering something not commonly known about the era in general will be worth a read. There are more conspiracy theories than you’d believe surrounding just about everything.

Helton: I’d believe an awful lot. I’ve heard Kwon throw out a couple of fun ones over the years. Yet another thing to ponder. As if (waving to the book) I didn’t have enough already.

Lag: Academic interests aside, I’d really like to know why they dropped the Armadillo class ships and went to the carrier model. I’d sure rather have THIS one be on my side, even in her current degraded state, than have to go up against her.

Helton nods agreement.

Fade to black.

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16 thoughts on “The Stars Came Back -092- History

  1. “Ship AI: We were programmed to be rational under rules written by a government committee, given to programmers on a budget, working under a war-time schedule, to deal with the unknown, with heuristics modified by experience. To be rational in combat, often with mutually exclusive orders and directives and principles, and tasked with such impossible goals as killing as many people as possible while killing as few as necessary, for some very loose definition of “necessary” that changed hourly as political winds changed…”

    This paragraph makes the entire novel, which is a great yarn anyway. From the POV of a retired Air Force officer who was a combat aircrewman for 12.5 years, the basic discription of the job is ALL in that paragraph. If asked to summarize MY military career, there is NO way I could do it as concisely and clearly as this.

    Maximum kudos.

    • Indeed. And thinking about what will happen after the AI inhaled 750 TB (nice number, that!) of history has me sitting at the edge of my seat. Very nicely done.

  2. ” from monastery to cargo hauler” This sounds like the ship was a monastery. perhaps you meant to phrase it differently. Then Helton asks “Did you say ‘abbey'”, rather than monastery. I think this should be clarified, but I’m not sure how.

    • Hmmm… Yes. It was a “flying abbey”, i.e., a mobile one that went where needed. Abbey and monastery are about the same thing, but using different words like that does make it a little awkward… I’ll try a change here in a bit, see what works.

  3. After finding how casually is was listening in on electronics

    …casually it was…

  4. Nice! Can’t wait to read more history on everybody’s favorite flying enigma!

    Only one nitpick, and the Rocket Scientist already covered it.

  5. Nitpicks

    “A small camera is a also positioned” s/b “is also” with no “a”

    “On a screen on the wall is a an image” s/b “is an” with no “a”

    “various ships systems” s/b “various ship’s systems”

    “and a couple more where it’s crew” s/b “its crew”

    “including it’s time during the Darkness” s/b “its time”

    “number of odd-balls” s/b oddballs with no hyphen.

    • Thank you very much. Can’t believe I had THREE mistakes in the first paragraph. Easily missed ones to be sure, but still. Thanks.

  6. Oh, I DO love a mystery, and Taj is so very aptly named.

    “crew and compliment ” complement
    “and a couple more where it’s crew” its
    “including it’s time during the Darkness” its

    • Thanks for the complement/compliment catch.
      The name was picked for a reason :-)
      Don’t remember if I told folks what it means, if just heavily hinted they might want to look it up, but I couldn’t think of anything better, other than one other name it has that has been seen once before, and will be explained later.
      Most of the questions will be cleared up by the end.

      • Yes, you told us, and I’ll be darned if I can make Tajemnica twist around phonetically in any way so it sounds like it is ‘sposed to. I always dreaded dealing with my sole Polish customer as I could never understand a word he said. Nice guy otherwise.

          • Yes, thank you. I wasn’t clear; what I meant was I can’t see how the way it’s spelled can make it sound the way it does. Like Warsaw ain’t war-saw (I could be wrong). I’m not complaining by any means- just puzzled. Go Team Taj!

  7. People who speak English have no good excuse for complaining that the spelling doesn’t look like the pronunciation… :-) (speaking as one whose native language is Dutch). Clearly Polish has very different rules, perhaps more consistent — my sister used to say that English had no rules, only exceptions. If you want to see really confusing spelling, check out Irish Gaelic.

    • Personally, I like the story in The Onion about an emergency air-drop of vowels into the Czech Republic.

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