Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tour of the Universe - Sentient Space Ships by Jody Wallace

Thanks to the marvels of modern science on planets that are a lot more advanced than Terra, scientists of many species came together to tackle the issues of cross-universal communications, computer processing speed, and data storage. Together they designed a self-replicating organic matrix to power advanced supercomputers that, when inserted into a unit as large as a space ship and allowed to expand, tends to evolve into sentience. It is believed by many that these beings, called Ships, were touched by the Mother and thus able to achieve sovereign thought and personality.
The lights in the ceiling panels flickered. The floor juddered slightly, as if Ship had encountered turbulence—but there should be nothing to cause it in this part of the Terran sector. 
 Vorn glared at the ceiling. “What are you doing, Ship? Crying like a baby?” 
 “I am one hundred years past my awakening,” Ship observed. “I am not fraught with immaturity.”
Not all ships become Ships. Some are too small; some simply don’t evolve. These vessels remain simple machines that are subordinate to independent sentient requests. Ships, on the other hand, generally consider themselves somewhat superior to organic species, at least in matters of intelligence and decision-making accuracy, and regard the occupants upon them as their flock—their responsibility. They have relationships of some sort with each and every one of their dwellers when they can. Ships definitely have emotions, personalities, likes and dislikes. 
“Shipborn have free will, Citizen Qualmon,” Ship said, defending her. “While human reproduction is synchronized to enhance species survival, Shipborn may unite in partnerships as desired. Sarah and Nikolas possess a high compatibility ratio for a two-partner union.” 
 “You say that, but you didn’t realize your cherry-picked handlers were screwing Terrans—or did you?” Qualmon accused. 
 “I am only somewhat more perfect than any other sentient being,” Ship explained. 
“Mistakes were made. Our prolonged retrieval period is an attempt to rectify them.”
There are many kinds of Ships in the universe. Sleek, weaponized Ships, such as Ship 1001 in ANGELI and TRAITOR, make up the military fleet, whose primary purpose is to battle incursions of the evil entities from another dimension that seek to destroy sentient life on this side of the maelstrom. Entities in particular love to eat Ships, which makes fighting the entities exceptionally tricky. Ships do not easily awaken into sentience and are protected at all costs due to their value and the belief they were touched by the Mother.

Then there are exploration Ships, some of the smallest Ships. They’re manned by the enforcers, who have as their purpose locating these entity incursions. They also, perhaps more notoriously, regulate the boundary beacons placed around solar systems and galaxies that are off-limits to Ships and Code-following independent sentients, generally due to the presence of the deadly entities. Scavenging inside those sealed systems is considered far too risky, not to mention the possibility that it might lure the entities within outside the system and into occupied territory.
Niko went cold. “Are you saying you’ve decided to seal the system?” 
 If survivors of an entity incursion showed evidence of being post-code and were somewhat successful battling the invasion, the Shipborn offered aid. If they were pre-code, the natives were a lost cause and that solar system was sealed. 
 The beacons were set, and any Shipborn crossing the border mustered the enforcers. 
 Vorn raised an eyebrow. That, Niko had gotten from his father. “We haven’t decided anything.”
The largest types of Ships are population Ships. They are the guardians of and homes for their occupants, who can be anything from a mishmash of species to a single-species craft. The older the Ship, the larger it grows, both in its inner matrix, which replicates without much added help, and in its size, which does require the assistance of its crew. The oldest Population Ships are almost the size of Terra’s moon. While many species do prefer to live dirtside, they often have grounded Ships that are established on their planets to aid and protect them as they live out their lives, which are generally much shorter than Ships. Ships are not yet known to have expiration dates, as their ability to self-replicate also grants them the ability to self-heal.
“Increased respiration and heartbeat along with raised hormonal levels are something I can scan for. Did you know she displays the same responses to you? It has increased of late.” 
 Because she was frightened he’d jump her again. She’d pretended she was attracted to him to relieve his guilt. Sarah was a kind and balanced person—nothing like he was.
 To distract Ship from his hormonal response to the memory of Sarah’s kisses, he quipped, “What is this, match make for falsely-accused Shipborn day?”
 “I do not match make,” Ship protested. “I am not a population Ship. That is not part of my programming.” 
 “You do all sorts of shit that’s not part of your programming.” While growing up with his harsh father, Niko had relied on Ship to be his confidant and companion. He didn’t treat the AI as a half-deity like other Shipborn were inclined to do. “You’re bugging the shit out of me right now. Sometimes I think you program yourself.” 
 “You have professed that sentiment before,” Ship said. 
In the books ANGELI and TRAITOR, when Terran humans learn about the existence of other sentient species in the larger universe, the Terrans are inclined to view Ship and its intelligence askance. Many tales of supercomputers gone awry color the Terran viewpoint, much to Ship 1001’s dismay. 
“Adelita has not, at this time, agreed to a marital arrangement.” Gregori stood by the door stiffly, hands clasped behind his back. His lips quirked. “Something about not giving me the time of day until I expose Ship for the evil, wretched hive of villainy that it is. No offense intended, of course.” 
 “I have conversed sufficiently with Adelita that I am aware of her unusual opinions concerning synthetic intelligence,” Ship said. “I hope to overcome her poor regard of me through fruitful communication.” 
 “She’d rather have her fingers back,” Gregori recommended. 
 “It is anomalous that she refuses the endo-organic appendages we have offered her.” 
The consumables shelf in Niko’s cell whirred, presenting two beverage packets. “She does not seem to understand that an endo-organic appendage cannot possibly hijack a sentient’s higher functions.” 
But Ships aren’t satisfied with their near-omniscient status, their massive processing power, and their job satisfaction in shepherding their crews. Ships observed that independent sentients like humans enjoyed things that Ships could not, and so Ships helped invent android extensions, bodies in which they could implant the essence of their consciousness in order to experience things like swimming, manual labor, eating, breathing, sex, and other activities enjoyed by smaller life forms. As a recent breakthrough, android extensions are particularly expensive. 
“Shut up,” Vorn snapped.  
Since Vorn didn’t pull rank, Ship continued. “If you would like to blame things on my faulty judgment, I would recommend that you procure me an android extension. While in the body, Ships are subject to the limitations of independent entities and do become less accurate.”  
“Not that again,” Vorn said. “I told you, we’re not getting you a body. It’s too expensive, and we have this botched mission to deal with.”  
Vorn shook his head. “He doesn’t need to be in a union. Makes you weak, and he’s weak enough. The doc can’t even have kids. What’s the point?”  
“The ability to create offspring is not the sum total of a person’s worth,” Ship said. “I cannot create offspring, and I am worth a great deal. Though if you would obtain that android I have been asking for, I could experience more activities relegated to bipedal sentients. There are some who believe sufficiently advanced androids could participate in the process of life formation.” 
Ship 1001 is particularly interested in obtaining an android extension. Perhaps it will get the chance in one of the future Maelstrom novels...

This is only a taste of Ship 1001 and its interference in – I mean, participation in – the book TRAITOR. While Ship doesn’t play a huge role in ANGELI, it’s definitely a presence. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about sentient Ships on this leg of your Tour of the Universe.


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