Transitions, Part IV: An Erik McKetten Tale
Cat turned and sat in the pilot’s chair. The leather groaned in protest, reluctantly submitting to the weight of a pilot for the first time in decades. Cat waited, expecting the chair to rotate and face the controls. Nothing happened. Signy really was lifeless. Only the most basic of functions worked – the secondary systems powered up to open the cargo doors and turn on the lights and life support. Everything else seemed frozen in time.
He closed his eyes and leaned back against the headrest. Now what? He had less than twenty-four hours to either get Signy out of the hangar or come up with the hangar rental fee. With only four hundred credits and some change in his account, renting the hangar was not an option. He needed a technician – and fast – and he didn’t know how he could pay for that, either.
“She your pretty?”
Cat jumped up, knife in his left hand while his right went for his pistol.
“Whoa, easy!” The girl held up her hands. It was the girl from the lounge, the dirty drifter.
“Get out of my ship.”
She took a step forward, hands still in the air. Cat could see a scar on the palm of her right hand.
“I just want to ask you something.”
Cat flexed his hand around the pistol’s grip. “What?”
She licked her lips and her cheek twitched. “You going home? To Min?”
Cat’s eyes narrowed.
“I heard you say it to the andro in the bar. I could use a lift, is all. I can pay…” Her eyes snapped up to stare directly at him, “Sort of.”
Cat relaxed and slid the knife back into its sheath. “You’re from Min? Whereabouts?”
She lowered her hands. “Jord.”
“That’s where I’m from. What’s your name?”
Her eyes flicked around the cabin. “Lena.”
She shook her head, “Just Lena. Don’t know my parents.”
Cat frowned, “Breida?”
“I’m Erik. Erik McKetten.” He held out his hand.
She stepped closer, her own hand shaking.
“When was your last hit?” He asked.
“You’re still shaking? How long have you been at it?”
“Since I was a kid.”
“Lena, you’re still a kid by my book.”
“You’re from Jord. You know there ain’t no kids on that rock.”
Erik grabbed her hand and shook it. Her firm grip surprised him.
“Voiceprint analysis inconclusive. Please provide biometric sample.”
Cat froze. He knew that voice. But how was it coming from the ship’s comm system?
“Please provide biometric sample.”
He spun and faced the cockpit controls. The chair remained in an aft-facing position, but he could see a panel on the port side blinking with the shape of a hand. He placed his left hand on the Glas.
“Fingerprint confirmed. Genetic analysis confirmed. Greetings, Erik McKetten. It has been twenty-three years, six months, eleven days and twelve minutes since your last login.”
“My last login?” He looked at Lena, as if she could give him an answer. “I haven’t ever logged in.”
“I’m sorry, Erik. You are correct. Your father created your profile during his last login. He logged in for you.”
Cat shook his head. It was his mother’s voice, he was certain of it.
“You…you sound like my mother.”
“Samples of Rosalie McKetten’s voice were used as the basis for my voice synthesis routines. I am pleased the simulation is accurate.”
“You are pleased? How are you pleased? You’re a damned ship’s computer.”
“Erik?” Lena whispered, “What is wrong with your ship?”
Cat couldn’t answer. He didn’t have an answer. Voice interaction with computers was common, but not in the way Signy was demonstrating. He knew his father didn’t do this – Pappa was a good mechanic but had no skills in programming. And the ship didn’t act this way when Cat was a child.
“Signy,” Cat tried again, noticing the computer had gone silent, “how can you feel ‘pleased’?”
“I’m not authorized to answer that question in present company.”
Cat looked around.
“You mean Lena? Lena’s fine. Just answer the question.”
“Operator override accepted. Access to restricted files granted. Beginning playback.”
Erik’s father appeared on the ship displays.
“To Rosie, Jarl Taneli, or Erik: You are the only other people with access to the A.I., should something happen to me. I believe I have successfully integrated the A.I. module into the ship. It will require in-flight testing, of course, to be certain. I know this wasn’t part of the plan, Tan, but I feel it’s prudent. Should the UEE confirm we have a copy of the Janus A.I., they would certainly take it from us. This way we have at least one backup to continue R&D from. The financial opportunity of a functioning A.I. is too great to risk keeping everything in the labs.
“Signy, as I have taken to calling her, is a clean slate. She’s based on the second iteration of Thane Myron’s work on the Janus module. She has none of Janus’s memories or orders – she’s entirely her own, independent personality.” He smiled at the screen, “I hope you take it as a compliment that I used your voice, Rosie.”
A series of beeps in the background made Gavin look away.
“Priority recall to the Great Hall. Shit. Alright, I’m shutting her down. Signy, timestamp and encode this message for operator-level access only. End recording and enter lockdown.”
Pappa’s face froze. Blue text displayed the date and time in an overlay: two hours before the attack. Right before the hangar recorded Gavin’s MobiGlas leaving for the last time.
Cat ran his fingers along the frozen image. Nothing of his family survived the attack – no vidcaps, no recordings, nothing. This was the first time he saw his father, as he remembered him, since he left the hangar twenty-three years ago.
He blinked away some moisture.
“Your ship has an A.I.? Oh, man. I think I’m going to leave. I don’t need that hard a burn.”
Cat’s head snapped to the girl, backing slowly down the crew passage.
“How do I know you won’t report this?”
“I won’t. Promise.”
“Right. A broke SLAMjunkie isn’t going to run to the nearest Advocate and report something like this? I don’t believe that. The reward would keep you high for weeks.”
“I won’t.” She was in the cargo hold, still backing out, her eyes wild.
“Signy. Close the cargo doors.”
“No!” Lena spun and lunged for the cargo doors. She was too slow. Signy slammed them down.
“Cargo doors closed and sealed, Erik.”
“Signy, please call me Cat. It’s what I’m used to.”
“Of course, Cat.”
“Let me go!” Lena screamed. She ran at him – as fast as she could run in the cramped space. His infantry instincts took over and a quick right jab connected with her chin. She collapsed on the floor.
“Great. Great. I just went from being an upstanding, newly-minted Citizen, to guilty of harboring an A.I., assault – of probably a minor – and now I’m going to have to kidnap that same minor. Signy, what am I going to do?”
“I am analyzing scenarios now. Please wait.”
Cat sighed. “Signy, that was a rhetorical question.”
“Analysis complete. Am I to assume surrendering to the Advocacy is not the preferred option?”
Cat sat down in the chair. This time it rotated to face forward. He put his face in his hands.
“Yes, Signy, that would be a correct assumption.”
“Then my analysis suggests the most favorable outcome would be to leave UEE-controlled space. Cathcart is only two jumps away.”
“Do you have any fuel?”
“How are we going to get fuel?”
Cat laughed a short, humorless laugh.
“Signy, you really need to learn what a rhetorical question-”
“Fuel order confirmed. Estimated time to delivery: thirty-one minutes.”
“What? Wait – how?”
“I placed the order.”
“How, Signy, how did you place the order? I don’t have the credits.”
“I spoofed the credit transfer.”
“You hacked the fuel depot computer? Who is footing this bill? Am I going to be facing more charges?”
“No. The invoice is temporary. Once fueling is complete, the entire transaction will disappear. There will be no record of it.”
“I wonder if Pappa had any idea what he was installing in his ship?”
The refueling bot arrived early and went straight to work. Cat watched the hangar doors nervously, awaiting armed and armored security officers. But they didn’t come, and the fuel bot finished its job and left.
“Flight plan filed. We are cleared to leave when you are ready, Cat. Shall I take us out?”
“Can you…you can do that?”
Cat looked back at Lena, still unconscious on the floor.
“Yeah. Go ahead. I have to do something about our passenger.”
“I believe there is high-tensile wire in the aft starboard utility drawer.”
“Do you have any idea how frightening your casual attitude towards crime is?”
“I do not, Cat. How frightening is it?”