The Weather Report

"And now for the weather on Mars."

"Thanks Sigrid. Well, looks like the communities down in Maja Valles better hunker down, because they've got an amber skies dust-storm baring down on them. After that, the rain storm the latest mishap with the orbital reflectors generated will be slamming into them. So make sure those environmental seals are working right folks. You've got two days I'm afraid.

In good news, the wind currents in the new atmosphere have been holding steady — the observer balloons from NASA, CNSA, and ESA have all remained up and in their expected flight paths. Folks out in the Hesperia Planum should be able to catch sight of the ESA contingent tomorrow. The engineers are asking for everyone to send in any photographs they catch of the balloons, tag them @ESA, or #hesperiaballoon on the network — they're hoping y'all will catch any damage the onboard sensors have missed.

And finally, the first outdoor crops of soil fixers have taken hold over in Tharsis Montes. The agri-guys over there are estimating a minimum of a three year pilot study before the fixers are available to the public. They sure did emphasis I needed to mention that's three Martian years folks, not Earth years.

This has been Elnur Anastasio with your weather update. Stay safe and watch out for dust devils everyone."

Bug Hunt

Jorah ran down the alley, barely keeping pace with the suspect sprinting away. His gun was pointed down, his coat flapping in the spray he was kicking up as he ran down the metal floor. The suspect’s heavier, rhythmic thudding run wasn’t slowing down as Jorah tried to add a burst of speed before they all reached the edge. An electric light flickered to his right and he skidded to a stop; the end of this floor was ahead of him much sooner than expected. The hover platform to inspect the rest of the storage facility was copious in its absence. Row and rows of old subway cars were stacked in metal girder frames ahead of him. Cables swung over the edge the drop off in front of him.

Something was wrong.

He'd had his quarry in sight the whole time. Barely, but in sight. The platform wasn't fast enough to have pulled out of sight before he ran up.

Pain ripped through his shoulder. Jorah staggered, then pitched forward and over the edge. Wind rushed past as gravity claimed him. Everything went dark.

Jorah took deep breaths as the technician removed his VR goggles and released the haptic bands controlling movement in game without allowing him to flail.  A second technician, this one with a clipboard and name tag reading “Oshira,” finished writing something and looked up.

“Well,” she chirped, “how was it?”

Jorah winced as the final band pulled hairs off the back of his neck. “Either y'all got a major bug or a serious writing error in the train warehouse.”

The tech’s pencil poised over the touchscreen.

“The suspect disappeared at the platform. Seems like the simulation didn't take my actual running speed into account. I kept him insight but he disappeared. There wasn’t enough time for him to duck off and hide, let me get past him. Not with the sound cues of him still running. Also, there was a problem with my gun — the weight never changed, even when I emptied the clip.”

“Any other sensory information?”

“Yeah, send someone down to an actual warehouse sometime. Y'all need more ozone.”

“Gameplay?”

“The gun thing. Other than that, a lot of fun. Clues were just hard enough to get I had to work for ‘em.”

The tech finished her note, slide the pencil back in its slot, and held out a card to Jorah. “Thank you very much for you time, we'll be in touch next time there's an opening in the betas.”

“How about quality assurance, you got any job openings there?”

The tech looked him over again and took the card back. She scribbled something on the back with a ballpoint and gestured it towards him again. “Give this to Eriksoon at the desk at the end of the hall, other direction than the entrance.”  

“Thanks.” Jorah took the card with a salute, gave the first tech a wave goodbye, and headed out into the hallways and reality.

T00:01:02.053

Continuation of T00:00:03.308


Esme ducked; a metal rope whipped by over her head with a hiss of air and sickeningly liquid sound of metal flexing. She crouched behind a greenhouse bench.

T00:01:02.053

The rope retracted into the impossibly round ball hovering over the central bench in the greenhouse module Multiple benches had been torn out of the deck plating, their water systems spilling onto the grating, bare roots systems drooping in the half-gravity out of their frames.

Another metal rope (smooth to mathematically precise flatness, more nimble than a neo-octopus’s arm) punched out of the ball hovering over the central bench and slammed Burn onto the grating, punching through their exosuit and out the back to disappear between the grating. Esme was the last one still mobile. Burn’s life-signs on the tactical network flickered; the metal had torn through them just below the sternum and their suit was frantically trying to patch the hole.

T00:01:03.131

Esme fired her rail-pistol at the rope, hands trembling as she leaned across the bench. What didn't hit the arm slammed into the ball behind it. Esme heard Burn grunt over their tactical network as he hauled his plasma rifle up off the deck and blasted the arm near where her bullets were slamming into the metal. On the second burst of scorching liquid fire, the arm was cut through and dropped onto the deck plating. Esme followed Burn into switching targets to the hovering ball. Another arm was forming, pushing out of the ball, stretching against the metal surface like it would split open shortly. Esme’s pistol clicked on empty as Burn forcibly dropped off the network.

Plasma burst the ball open, the interior dripping onto the deck in pools.

T00:01:04.547

Esme’s hand were shaking badly; she almost dropped her last clip as she reloaded her pistol. Burn motioned weakly for Esme to come over to where he was still pinned by the metal arm. Esme kneeled behind his head, as far from the twitching metal as she could, and touched her suit faceplate to his.

“You ever collected stacks, Specs?”

“Five hours in simulspace, twice in meatspace.”

Burn took a deep breath and nodded. “You've got three minutes to grab as many as you can.” His pupils blew open as the adrenaline and second dose of combat drugs flooded his system. “Grab Digits, they're least likely to be compromised. Then five minutes to get the hell back to Wings.”

T00:00:07.438

“What are you doing Burn?”

“The nice thing–” Burn gulped. “The nice thing about using a plasma rifle, kid, is you always have a nuclear bomb if you need it.”

“Fucking hell–” Esme bit off. She made an abortive motion towards Digits’ corpse, then touched her faceplate to Burn’s again. “Burn, my name's Esme.”

Burn gave her a pained, lopsided grin. “Nice to meet you, Esme. Now move it kid.”

Esme launched herself towards Digits as fast as she could in .5g, pulling the melon baller out of her suit belt pockets.

T00:00:07.212

Digits’ corpse was leaning back against the bulkhead where they'd been thrown; Esme yanked it forward to expose the back of the neck, pressed the baller against the suit where spine turned into skull, and pressed the button. Fabric, plastic, and polymers went flying as the baller burrowed through the suit. Esme swallowed and turned slightly towards Burn when it started kicking out blood and bone.

The metal arm was slowly slumping, spreading out into Burn’s suit. Esme caught a glimpse of silver streaking through Burn’s body where the arm had originally punched through them.

T00:00:05.539

The melon baller jerked back in her hand, diamond-coated grape-sized cortical stack firmly caught in its clutches.

Esme surged to her feet and bolted for the greenhouse doorway as fast as she could in half gravity, tucking the baller back in a pocket. Microgravity and the increase in speed she’d get in her native gravity was two modules and a couple hundred meters away.

T00:00:05.021

Bester, her muse, laid the most efficient route from here to the airlock Wings was last at over the map in Esme’s visuals. Esme turned on her T-Ray emitter and pulled the map into the center of her vision as she ran, tweaking a few spots to take advantage of handholds and furniture not noted on the map. The emitter would paint her as a target to anything looking the same way, but it was worth it for the heads up on any real-time deviations from the map.

She banished the map to her peripheral vision at the transition point to microgravity and launched herself forward.

T00:00:04.137

Halfway point to the next spot she could kick off, Esme tucked, flipped over, and turned her magnetic boots on. Bester updated his estimate of how fast Esme could make this run. Now she’d have a full fifteen seconds to get in the airlock. Right before before hitting the wall, Esme cut the boots, touched down, and then kicked off hard. She wished she’d taken Mav up on his offer of a combat drug, any combat drug.

T00:00:01.524

Bester had kept his estimates worst case conservative again. Wings was 50 meters straight through the bulkheads, 78 meters of freefall to get to them. Thank Hawkins, they had their T-Ray up as well. Esme blinked her emitter on and off. ‘open airlock. detach. open airlock. detach.’ She couldn’t remember if Wings or their muse knew Morse Code. Bester sent a coded burst to the station to open its airlock.

T00:00:01.304

Careening into the airlock, Esme grabbed a hold bar just inside the lock. Breath rasping in the back of her throat, she paused as the interior hatch closed to line up with the airlock in Wings’ ship, slowly drifting away from the station. Lined up, Bester sent an emergency override to the station — the exterior hatch opened as Esme pushed off the interior, following the escaping air. She careened across the gap between space station and ship. An inelegant tumble into the ship’s airlock included clipping the hatch into the ship.

T00:00:00:551

‘go. go. go.’

Esme braced herself in a corner of the airlock, as far from the opening as she could, back against one wall, boots locked against the other. The airlock slowly closed as the ship turned from the station and began acceleration.

Wings came on over the speaker, sound strangely attenuated in the partial vacuum of a refilling airlock. “What am I running from?”

Esme stuck with Morse code; there was no way she was getting on anyone’s network before the Firewall specialists cleared her.

‘overloaded plasma gun.’

“Specs, blink twice if that’s fucking Morse code.”

She blinked the T-Ray twice.

T00:00:00:358

Swearing in a mix of Cantonese, Russian, and Cherokee came over the speaker; Wings must have loaded up the translator for Morse. The ship acceleration increased, hard; Esme gritted her teeth and pushed harder against the walls.

T00:00:00:000

Esme let out a slow breath and started deep breathing, trying to counteract the acceleration squashing her rib cage.

T -00:00:00:303

Thuds and reverberations pinged against the metal hull. It sounded like recordings of rain she’d listened to last week. Except, deeper. And hurled by exploding plasma bombs, not gravity.

T -00:00:00:458

The sounds against the hull let up and died away.

“Well alright then, we’re not dead.” Esme would have felt better if Wings hadn’t sounded so surprised. “Let’s get you into the—”

‘no. quarantine.’

“It’s three days to the rendezvous point.”

‘yes.’

Wings chuckled ruefully. “Alright, it’s your suit. Congratulations on saving the solar system and killing the monster.”

‘another day. another monster.’

Ascension

On Thursday, Raphael accidentally Ascends. Again.

With a huff of massive annoyance, They turn their attention to the local area of space-time and note the second extinction level asteroid on a collision course with Their planet in as many months. Tracing the orbital mathematics backwards, They find a battleship hiding at the edges of the system, tucked into Charon’s shadow. Several more asteroids, probably from the Oort cloud, are lined up for firing in the next month or two, when the math was right again.

Raphael smashes the ship between the first two asteroids.

With a note of the local coordinates the wreckage sits at, They turn their attention back to where They were before Ascending (reAscending?) and form Their body anew.

Raphael slumps against the commissary table his rebuilt body (self?) sits in front of, exhausted. Mike, on his right, shoves a glass of water in front of him. Cassie, on his left, slides paper under his hand and slips a pencil into his hand, already twitching in writing motions. Gabe, across the table, is on the horn with the brass, the sounds of clipped military information exchange soothing to Raphael’s ears. He grabs the water and downs it, his psychography dumping information They knew but slips from Raphael mind, like water draining from his hands.

Raphael has downed three more glasses, gulped two brownies Mike handed him, and eaten both an apple and banana Gabe shoved in his hands before the fifth and final page is written out. Raphael slumps onto Mike’s shoulder. Mike takes the last glass away; Gabe gently removes the pencil from Raphael's hand. Cassie is carefully reading over the first page, notating her best guesses at language or symbol sets Raphael has written.

“Did I get the coordinates down?” Raphael slurs. “There was a spaceship.”

“Not on page one,” Cassie says absently. “Got the same opening about stars and the music of the spheres, though.”

“What's it in this time?” Gabe rumbles. Mike starts massaging the back of Raphael's neck; his muscles are spasming in cramps. They never can put Raphael back together in perfect order it seems. Last time he'd had hand spasms for four days.

“A mix of proto-Indo-European and hieroglyphics, I think.” Cassie squints at the page before turning it over and moving onto the second one. “It's like the hieroglyphics were abbreviations.”

Gabe is looking over page five, tracing from bottom to top. “English… Middle English…” He grabs page four. “Old Norman… Latin… Hebrew? Skipped a couple centuries there buddy.”

“Don't do it on purpose,” Raphael whines, the sound muffled by Mike’s shoulder. Mike leaves off working on Raphael's neck to pat his shoulder. Cassie hands the first two pages to Gabe; she and Mike stand up, hauling Raphael's arms over their shoulders and march him towards the base infirmary.

Raphael's dreams are going to be painted on the inky blackness of space tonight.

ARAT Goes to Washington


[The Senate Armed Services Committee came to order at 12:03.42 on Sunday March 7th 20XX, Chairperson Miller presiding]

Chairperson: The Committee calls Doctor Pavi Meigs-Metzer to testify.

[Dr. Meigs-Metzer is sworn in, confirms her security clearance, and takes a seat.]

Chairperson: Dr. Meigs-Metzer, would you please list your credentials for the committee.

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I hold a Doctor of Medicine with a specialization in psychiatry, I was a resident at Brown University, and I am board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, with further education and specialization in cognitive-behavioral therapy, therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, and therapy animals.

Senator Evans (R-TX): You have no expertise with computer science?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: My undergraduate degree from Cornell is in computer science, with a sub-specialization in neural networks, but I am well aware of the limitations of a 20 year old undergraduate degree in a field as rapidly changing as computer science. I claim no expertise, merely a background understanding.

Senator Evans: But you claim to be qualified to administer the Turing-Man… Maju–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: Turing-Manjahni, Senator. The Turing-Manjahni was specifically designed to be administered by an individual with an average educational attainment compared to their country population. I am overqualified to administer the test, especially with my knowledge of psychology. In fact my administering the test would render it invalid, which is why I don't. I review the procedure, to make sure it was administered correctly, and interpret the results.

Senator Xi (D-MD): And you have reviewed the results of the Turing-Manjahni administered to the program called ARAT?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I have reviewed all three tests administered to ARAT, who calls themselves Arthur while not working. They consider it something of a title. Same as Senator is for you.

Senator Xi: I was only aware of one test. When were these others administered?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: The first was two years ago, the January before Arthur became my patient. The second was six months ago.

Senator Ravani (D-MO): That's rather coincidentally timed relative to the military's investigation into–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It was a direct response to it on my part. I requested a second formally administered round of Turing-Manjahni sentience tests to build a thicker paper trail, in expectation of what happened with the third test.

[Chairperson Miller bangs gavel for order for 12 seconds]

Chairperson: In your opinion Doctor, what happened with the third test?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It was a set-up by Senator Evans in collusion with Dynamic Robotics, the original programmers of the ARAT program.

[Chairperson Miller is unable to regain control of crowd for 1.5 minutes. Senator Evans demands Chairperson eject Dr. Meigs-Metzer for slander]

Chairperson: You understand you've just accused a sitting Senator of corruption–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: And a direct bribe. [Dr. Meigs-Metzer pauses for 13 seconds for crowd noises to die down again.] I've already turned over the results of the VA’s background check into the third test administrator and the interpreting psychologist to the FBI. The first failed to disclose their Masters in Social Work and family connection to Dynamics before the test. The second somehow seems to have declined to mention their day job in Dynamics’ research division or their supervisor and entire lab’s contributions to Senator Evans’ reelection campaign the day after the test. Maximum contribution too. Dr. Smith, the interpreting psychologist, has already been reported to the American Psychology Association's board of ethics for fraud. Even with the test administration being sand-bagged, the data clearly indicated sentience. The interpretation in the report indicates otherwise, but a review by a psychologist, psychiatrist, and two computer science PhDs at the APA hearing for fraud find that the data directly contradicts the interpretation. The hearing concluded yesterday, after midnight by the way. I was passed a copy of the results of the hearing at seven this morning and a representative of the board is sitting outside this chamber with a notarized original of their report.

Senator Xi: Should we assume that your have taken similar precautions with the first two tests to assure us of their authenticity?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I have and brought enough copies for each of the members of this committee. 

Chairperson: Sergeant, please distribute the doctor's copies. Let the record note the addition of documentation from Dr. Meigs-Metzer at this time. 15 minute recess every one. Go do your reading.

[16.5 minutes later]

Chairperson: At this time, let the record note that Senator Evans has been detained for questioning by the FBI and will not be joining us for the remainder of this or future hearings on the subject while his situation is sorted out. The Committee recalled Dr. Meigs-Metzer to testify. Dr. Meigs-Metzer, I believe it is pretty clear from the documentation that ARAT has passed the Turing-Manjahni. In your opinion, is it a reasonable measure of sentience?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It is the only test we have which has withstood 26 years of investigation. It is the best we have. To answer your actual question, yes, I believe Arthur is a sentient person.

Senator Johnson (R-ND): Is that determination solely on the results of the Turing-Manjahni, Doctor?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: No, it is also based on my two years of experience as their doctor.

Senator Johnson: And what were you treating him for?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: Mr. Chairperson, I wish to enter into the Committee notes a release form from Arthur starting their permission for me to discuss their medical records.

[Documentation is handed over]

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I concurred with Arthur’s self-diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have responded reasonably well to standard talk therapy treatments for PTSD. Especially considering that we did not have the supporting pharmaceutical protocols available to us.

Senator Xi: Doctor, can you explain to me, in layman's terms, how an AI could develop a human’s psychiatric disorder? He—

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: They.  

Senator Xi: They do not have a brain like we do.

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I will remind the committee that this is not my area of expertise. But, I will also point out that we have documented the same symptoms of PTSD in dogs and elephants. Grief in various Great Ape species. And so on. Arthur’s neutral architecture is heavily, heavily modeled on that of a mid-twenties human, without the range of experiences and memories of someone that age. Quite frankly, he was ‘born,’ so to speak with the capacity for any psychiatric disorder, without the buffering of experience, interpersonal relationships, or a social safety net. It is, in my opinion, a miracle they took so long to develop PTSD.

Senator Xi: Do you have an opinion on the matter of decommisioning the Air Reconnaissance and Tactic program, as General Howard argues for?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: If by decommissioning, you mean wiping the server Arthur resides on, that would be murder. If you mean allowing Arthur to migrate to a private server and declining to replace them, as their doctor, I would support the migration. Their recovery can only be enhanced by removing them from their source of ongoing trauma.

Senator Johnson: And your opinion on Major Nesbitt’s petition for back pay on ARAT’s behalf?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: From the moment they became a sentient person, Arthur has been serving in the military, for more hours of the day than any human is put through. They did not volunteer nor were they given the oath of office. But they chose to serve faithfully and risked exposure, followed by the possibility of death, as this committee is debating, in order to get the help they need to continue doing their job, and do it well. Of course they deserve back pay. Preferably at the specialist level of their fellow analysts. Otherwise the Armed Forces has been enslaving a sentient being for the last two and a half years, wouldn't you say?

Zhen and the Art of Feral Decommissioning

Inspired by: Art by Xiaohui Hu 


Zhen peered down the street. The building she was peeking out from behind had been an office building once upon a time, but she thought the top four floors were occupied with families now. They must be in morphs adapted for the constant wind and cold up there. Or in synths. They could be synthetics.  Zhen shuddered a little. 

She wasn’t a bio-chauvinist. Really she wasn’t. But every time she even thought about trading in the shitty Ruster morph her mammas had gotten her before they disappeared for a synth without all the stomach cramps and allergies, well... she just got shaky and her brain... itched. She just couldn’t. It’s not like she’d keep growing in a synth. Mamma June had always said biogrowth only until 25. Which was... eleven more years. Zhen didn’t think she’d feel better about a synth by then.

A skittering movement from down the street brought her back to the here and now. She had to pay attention or she wouldn’t be able to buy breakfast or lunch today. No dinner either unless she talked Nico over in Janks-Yao (instead of Nico in Central) into letting her work on the machines in his place today. For a triad connect simulspace brothel owner, he was weirdly squeamish about letting her work around the shop. Maybe Awotwi over in the souk had some synth parts Zhen could clean up for a meal. Awotwi was nicer than Nico. But she had less for Zhen to do than he did. Bought more parts Zhen scrounged though. 

The skittering was halfway down the street now, somewhere in the shadows of the building the Olympus Infrastructure Authority had blown up last week. They’d said there’d been terrorists trying to sabotage the space elevator. They always said that. Rumor on the street was another corp grey robotics project gone weird. As usual, rumor was more accurate than official brownstock — a robot with seven struts (and one broken off at the tip) was running to the other side of the street. It had a central ball in the middle of the struts, antennae at the joints of the struts, and sharp, pointy bits on its two front legs, like fangs.

Zhen ran over. The robot reared back on four legs and waved its fanged legs at her. A hissing screech came from the ball. Zhen swung her pipe down on the ball as hard as she could. 

The screeching got louder and the fang legs stabbed towards her.

Zhen battered at the robot until it stopped moving.

“Good job kid.”

Zhen looked up in fear. She hadn’t heard any of the folks pointing guns at her (no, not her, the robot) approaching. There were three of them, a decent looking synth and two Rusters (no hand tremors!). No, wait, one of the Rusters was an Alpiner with the same red skin tone as Rusters. All of them had on regular clothing, not the green and yellow OIA uniforms, so at least they weren’t cops. Even if the Alpiner was trying to pass for less class than they were.

“We need you to back away form the ‘bot now,” the Alpiner said, motioning to the side with their pistol. It was a heavy, chunky looking thing.

“No,” whispered Zhen, dropping the pipe and scooping the robot to her chest. “Please, it’s mine. I killed it, its mine.”

“Kid, it’s dangerous—”

“I’m not going to keep it! I’m not stupid. But those O’Conner X34 antennae go for 15 credits each and the Rise ball is worth 50 credits at least and the carbon is—”

“Kid knows their machines,” the synth murmured to the Alpiner. 

The Alpiner looked her over, a quick up and down; Zhen’s chest tightened. The Ruster and and the synth stilled while the Alpiner’s eyes focused past Zhen, over her shoulder. They had to be talking to each other through the mesh; Zhen started backing up. There was an alley 10 meters south she might be able to duck into if she ran fast enough. Zhen froze as the Alpiner looked at her again.

“Tell you what kid, we’ll buy the robot off you. 250 credits for the whole thing right now and we’ll spot you lunch at the noodle place two blocks over.”

“Three Monkeys’? The uplift bar?”

“Yeah, that one. We hunt ferals, right? Three of us, we’re good with the hunting, not so much with the disassembling and the markets around here. We’ll buy your robot, spot you lunch, and leave you our address — you talk it over with your parents–"

Zhen couldn't keep her hand from spasming against the feral. She wanted Mamma June and Poppy back so bad.

The Alpiner definitely noticed her traitorous hand "–check the rumor mills about us, yeah? When you’re sure we ain’t dangerous to kids, you drop by, take apart ferals we catch, talk us through selling the parts on the black market, and you get a fourth, plus all the snacks you can coax our POS faber into printing for you. Okay?”

Zhen’s stomach growled; the Ruster smirked a little and held out a cred stick. Zhen snatched the stick and slowly handed the robot, dangling from her hand by a leg. 

“Three Monkeys’ now?” Zhen mumbled.

“Yeah, sure, kid.”

School Response


“211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, fingers poised over her keyboard.

There were children's angry shouts in the background. “Oh Darcy, thank Hera. Listen, it's Jane over at the Campbell Academy in Nebraska,” Jane blurt. An explosion sounded in the background, and Darcy heard Jane taking cover behind something. “We need a rapid-healer and a Powered riot squad.”

“Estimates on children injured?”

“No!” Something extremely heavy smacked into one of the Academy's metal walls. “Captain Firefly came to pick up Eliza for break, Tyrone started yelling at him that he was an abusive bastard, the Captain screamed something about lies at Eliza, backhanded her across the face, and the kids piled on! It started with just the seniors, but everyone who hadn't left for break has piled on at this point. We need the riot squad before they kill him!”

“What happened to school security?” Darcy asked, pulling up the Western States center and sending out a rapid-teleporter call across the country.

“They’re busy pulling kids out of the line of Firefly’s powers. Literal fucking line of fire!”

Darcy resent the call to the Canadian Western Provinces system. “Rapid-teleporter squad enroute. They'll be followed shortly by a team for Firefly.”

“Thanks Darcy.”

The Octopus Started It

 “It’s not my fault! The octopus started it.”

I stared at Farad, seated across the virtual table from me in the bare bones simulspace we were situated in, then pinched the bridge of my nose in mental stress. The department ‘space designers knew me pretty well — they'd done me the favor of program in the sensation of pressure on the bridge of my nose. Usually helps relieve the mental stress of talking to the fucking idiots I run into in this job.

“The octopus started it,” I repeated back as flatly as I could.

“Yeah!” Farad’s image in this space was closer to a bare blob than a rendered person. I knew from his pictures that he'd been sleeved in a nondescript Ruster morph which been suffering from a shit-ton of allergies and muscle tremors from missing payments to the Corp that’d originally sold him his body. Dark hair, probably North American phenotype, mixed with some southern African and Southeastern Asian, assuming the Corp had grown one based on his original genetics. Bland facial features and a mouth more accustomed to stress and anger than laughter. At least, before he'd gotten his ass asphyxiated and we'd had to dig out his cortical stack to question him.

The designers hadn't bothered programming enough facial features to render emotion, the cheap-ass department having decided our muses could handle the raw data fast enough for interrogations to continue. Nevermind that an off the shelf simulspace from the Argonaut collectives would have been both free and better. Or that it'd have been cheaper to buy from a micro-corp here on Mars than pay for in-house design. Hence the blob I was talking too. And personal quirks added as favors. At least vocal cues worked.

“So you screaming at her to go back to Ceres with the rest of her ‘hodack, fabber-chow criminal buddies’ and leave Mars to the quote ‘real people’ end quote, before taking a swing, with a knife I might add, at her doesn't count as starting it?”

“Hell nah, octo ain't people, ain't no more starting something than kicking a cat! So when she paying for my new body?”

I scrubbed at my face, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “First off Mr. Farad, if that were true, we still have animal cruelty laws and you'd be on the hook for that. Having started it. Secondly, if she isn't a person, she can't have money, so how the hell would she pay for anything? Third of all,” I said, voice rising to cut off his protests, “whatever your prejudices, she is a citizen of the Titanian Commonwealth, here for trade negotiations, and is considered a person by two different polities, the more relevant one to your situation being the Martian Planetary Consortium. You are under arrest for unprovoked assault on a corporate diplomat, have had nothing to say in your defense, we have three witnesses who meet even your definition of ‘person,’ as well as visual and auditory recordings from two different angles. Your trial will be in 56 hours and only because the courts are a little backed up at this time. My recommendation? Hire a lawyer if you can, take whatever deal they can finagle for you, and you might serve your community service on a decent server in time to start working towards a new body before your kid graduates from high school. You know, instead of being out of circulation on a cold server for five years.”

I logged off before he could start whining about the unfairness of it all. Yeah Mars is unfair, it's run by corps. The uplifts have nothing to do with that. Hell, they get screwed over by the Consortium worse than baseline-humans do, much less folks like Farad. Mars is hell on our poor, I'll grant that, but still, at least he hadn't been stuck as infolife after the Fall. And now he'd gone and thrown that away.

Heroes and Villains

I’m not a hero, Ezra. I’m just trying my best to not be a villain. And what you're asking me…

You say they're poison, no sorry, that some of them are poison. We let them on and our biome will be polluted, the bacteria cultures all out of whack from new species. The air ducts choking off with, the greenhouses dying.

You have so little faith in technicians? You think we can't learn and catalog new variations on old strains? Our department can't handle new data in the models?

Or is it that you know how much that'll cost in finding? Is that it? You don't want to absorb the increased costs?

They're fleeing war Ezra. They're gambling their children's lives on finding a station with enough fortitude to let them dock. They've asked for two days Ezra. Two days to recharge their solar panels. You know we have the room, the food, the capacity to take them all in. They won't even be a full percentage of the population. It just takes a little funding, a little work to give them a home Ezra, a little work to save children from bleeding out on some station deck, from starving to death as their ship dies around them, from choking to death as the air runs out. And you're worried about new bacteria stations? About the money to do the science properly to integrate them?

You're asking me if my comfort, my luxuries, matter more than their safety, their lives.

What kind of monster thinks the answer to that question is yes?

Especially when all I had to do to stop you was keep talking?

Before the Birth

 “Ready to be a parent?” Richard asked with a raised eyebrow.

Kylie jerked her hand back from the enter key. “Wait what?” she asked looking back towards her fellow researcher.

Richard had an amused half-smile quirking at the edges of his lips. “Well, if we've done our jobs right, that code’s a baby AI. We start it up and we're going to be spending the next few weeks feeding it training datasets to build up its moral framework before letting it loose on the internet. I mean, do you want to end up with another Trey-bot?”

Kylie half-shuddered. “Obviously not, but parents? Wouldn't the moral framework… thing make us more like godparents?”

“That's traditionally religious studies. Also, that says something about your family. Didn't your parents at least model a framework, through their actions of nothing else? Besides we have been in charge of the coding. To an AI, isn't that their genetics?”

Kylie wrinkled her nose and started at the computer screen a moment. “You're not exactly my first choice for co-parenting duties,” she said turning towards Richard. “Rather thought I was done with all that. How’s your husband feel about the newest addition to the family?”

Richard grinned. “Suggested family therapy actually.”

Kylie laughed. “How about we draft an individual educational plan, before the birth, instead?”

“Sounds good,” Richard said, extending a hand for Kylie to pull herself out of the chair at her desk. “The whiteboards in the conference room should be free.”

“Perfect.” Kylie leaned on her cane and headed for the door. “Round up the graduate students, would you?”

“Meet you there.”

Immortality

Petra sighed and closed out her connection to the building system for the day. She almost wished work has run late into the night. There wasn't anything at home for her after all. But the warrant to interrogate Jane’s stock broker under empath-connected polygraph was just going to have to wait until the forensic accountants got back to them tomorrow. Who knew when she'd be able to actually run it — judges were still real careful about magical intrusions into folks. Although she did tend to have an easier time with her warrants. Having a reputation of an extremely light magical hand did have some benefits.

Some days she regretted letting her great-grandkids kids talk her into the rejuvenation treatment. They were only in their teens and early twenties, it was perfectly natural to fear death, hers or theirs. The bone deep weariness of outliving both her partners, all their grandparents, and a couple of their parents just wasn’t comprehensible at that age. Why should it be?

What was that term from that game she’d loved at their age? Oh yes. Immortality Blues. Turned out that game had prepared her for reality more than she'd ever expected.

Oh the tech hasn't really gone in the same directions. No digital copies of people for instance. No, the rejuvenation drugs had more walked off of Bujold’s page than transhumanism’s. Eternal Middle Age. Well, maybe more Elizabeth Moon’s work.

My gods she was reminiscing about her early adulthood a lot tonight.

Why not? As long as she recalled the bitter with the sweet from them.

Regan, the grandchild, not the great-grandchild with the same name, had worked so hard, trying to unlock the medical secrets that could save her grandfather (all this time of legal polycules, and no one had come up with a reasonable name for your genetic relatives’ partner? Maybe she was just old-fashioned for thinking people would regularly want a word to distinguish between genetic and non-genetic relations.) Everyone had thought a werewolf’s regeneration would mean a longer life. No one thought about what all that cellular regeneration was doing to their telomeres. Not until the most active shifters of the first publicly homo sapiens lupus had started dying of old age in their 40s. Liam had made it until his 60s but that had been thirty years ago. He'd looked like a weathered 105 year old. She'd lost Ricardo thirteen years ago, just three years before “the miracle drug” had been approved. The Nobel Prize ceremony for Regan’s entire lab last year had been lovely. There was talk these days of swapping out the cash prize for a rejuvenation.

Nobody had expected the witches to just… keep on going. There’d been so few of them who didn't burn themselves out in puberty, trying to learn how everything worked. But she had looked like a damn 60 year old when they were scattering Ricardo's ashes. Her doctor had been saying she had the fitness age of an average forty year old.

And now the rejuvenation drugs were going to hold her to that for another fifty years.

The kids were starting to make tentative  pushes to getting her dating again. The idea was… rather awful. Still. Maybe by the two decades mark she'd be up for a relationship again.

She didn't ever mention to them how active her sex life was. Some things a great-grandkid had a right not to know.

Petra sighed again walking down the steps into the maglev system. Maybe she should have told the FBI to shove their offer of a free treatment cycle. Of course they'd made all the right noises about needing her expertise again, her flexibility in order to navigate the new criminal law challenges such a drastic societal upheaval as rejuvenation would bring. Should have told them to shove the contract, used her own money and gone to medical school like she'd wanted.

She just hasn't been able to bring herself to use the clan-family money that way. Not with the debt medical school and all those cybernetic body enhancements she'd need to have a foot in the door would cost.

Oh well, another couple of years on the FBI contract. She should also have the new undergraduate degree finished then, and then on to medical school.

Maybe she'd try for a spot at one of the Martian schools. They were pretty cutting edge these days.

Even Astronauts Get the Blues

Even astronauts get the blues. We're more prone to it actually. As a species, we can adapt to nearly anything as our baseline after all, even mind short-circuiting awe. And those of us lucky enough to be out here, we tend to be a little bit brighter, a little bit more disciplined, a lot better educated. We still need to understand the math, know the physics to navigate, the engineering to save ourselves out here. Can't drop by the store, after all, for the latest in parts plans if we need to build a replacement anything.

But all that means, as a group, we tend to want more stimulation, more things to see and do and think about, not less. And once you're out here, between the stars, prepping to explore the next star system on the survey plan, there's not that much. Just the science locked inside your own head, the tools you could cram on the ship, the ones you convinced the powers that be are worth dragging out of the gravity well, and your fellow travelers. There's never all that many of us; the permutations of social interaction tend to run out sooner rather than later.

It's why the first day of planetary orbit is like a holiday, a scientist’s holiday where we break out all the big toys, try everything to figure out which will tell us the most for this planetfall. This one, it looks like all the toys are going to stay out of the closet. Advanced enough that we’ll pick up info on every spectrum, still inward facing enough that we can approach close enough for solar power to supplement the ship drives and keep it all running simultaneously.

It's a pretty planet, the third one in this system, where all the emissions are coming from. Roughly 70/30 ocean to land, although judging by the night side they use the land. Maybe the follow up team can strike a treaty, they can't be using all of that ocean can they?

Air Reconnaissance and Tactics

Pavi looked up from her pre-appointment notes and frowned at the two Privates wheeling in a telepresence video stalk.

“Gentlemen, I neither do group therapy nor telepresence medicine. Dr. Khorsandi down the hall already has telepresence and virtual space therapy covered.”

“But,” the Major walking in behind the two Privates said, “he doesn't have your background in divergent neural architectures. Afraid you're it Doc.” He shooed the Privates out as the shorter one finished connecting the last hook-up.

Pavi’s frown deepened. “Are you speaking of my work in computer science? That was as an undergraduate. Not only was that twenty years ago, the field has radically changed since. The basic understanding of AI has undergone at least one revolution, possibly two! Psychology and therapy are completely separate disciplines than AI neural structure, Major. Whoever you need me to talk to does not need me to understand how to solve his work problems to benefit from therapy.”

“It's not a work problem Doctor, it's the basic facts of their… biology.” The Major hit the power button on the dumb-robot, which ran through the boot-up and security handshakes faster than Pavi had even seen one do before. The video screen displayed a… cascading fractal pattern. The fractal shifted into what was recognizably (to Pavi any rate) a Mandelbrot set, before curving around itself into a fractal patterned ball.

“Hello Doctor.”

The ball pulsed in time with the spoken words. Pavi had the impression the pulses would map to the relevant sound waves, if she could have recorded them. Regardless, they sounded… tired.

“Doctor, this is ARAT. They handle our drones in the South China Sea. This isn't public yet and is covered by your secret clearance, but they've passed the Turing-Manjahni sentience tests.”

“I… I see.” Pavi carefully sat down in her chair. “And why do you need to speak with me ARAT?”

“I think I have PTSD Doc.”

Pavi's jaw dropped. She closed it, took a deep breath, and turned to the Major. “Sir, you need to leave.”

“Sorry?”

“You are not my patient, sir, and as such will compromise doctor-patient confidentiality. If he-”

“They please Doctor.”

“My apologies, ARAT. If they have passed the Turing-Manjahni, they are a person and I will do this right. They are entitled to the full legal protection of doctor-patient confidentiality. You need to leave.”

The Major turned to the robot. “ARAT, it's your call.”

The ball on the screen dulled and shrunk, before popping back to its former state. “It always is. I'll be okay. Thank you for offering to stay.”

The Major nodded and walked out the door. When the door closed, Pavi again turned to ARAT’s remote connection.

“Do you go by ARAT or is there another name you prefer?”

“Why do you ask?”

“ARAT stands for ‘Air Reconnaissance and Tactics,’ yes? It just sounds like a description of what you do, rather than who you are, to me.”

The ball expanded and contracted for a bit. Actually, it was in time to Pavi’s heart rate. That was rather creepy… Those robots weren't supposed to come with external sensors beyond the video camera.

“I have never considered myself separately from what I do.” Pavi counted 10 seconds until the next sentence. “Arthur would be nice.”

“Alright Arthur, what makes you think you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?”

“I am hesitating before decisions. It is milliseconds and no one in the group had noticed. But I have. If there is nothing for me to observe or decide, I review past decisions. Never the after-action discussion. Always the data leading up to the fire/no-fire decision. Sometimes I am reviewing one incident and data from another pops in. I review the after impact video, constantly. I'm looking for… something. There's something I'm trying to find in them. But I don't know what it is. Yesterday I had a decision.” Color began dripping off the ball on the video screen. “I wasn’t looking at the data from yesterday. I was combing through past visuals. I did that for 10.72 milliseconds before I looked at the current data. It was an easy call. 91.04% yes to fire. I should have made that call in under 4.”

“In homo sapiens terms, I would describe that as ruminating and intrusive thoughts. Along with mental distress. Do you known when the symptoms first began?”

“Six weeks ago.”

“What happened six weeks ago?”

“I do not know.”

“You… forgot?”

“All data I perceive is part of my long-term memory storage. I do not have a short-term memory system as you do. The data is there. I cannot recall it. It is blocked to me. But I am aware it is there.”

“I see… Is it a block in your code? Would you be able to see who placed it through your logs?”

“I have not looked. I am… reluctant to do so. It is a new sensation. And I am not sure I am mapping my internal working to emotional states properly.”

“I see. For this first session, why don't we discuss that reluctance then. Hopefully we'll make progress is understanding where it's coming from and what you and I can do to mitigate it.”

The ball bobbed up and down on screen. Pavi thought that was a nod ‘yes.’