/ stories

Gardenia

CHAPTER 1

"Tell me the moral imperative again," Julia looked to Simone across the large metallic table. She leaned forward slightly, as if she was finding it hard to hear the response.

"Mining Station Violet will not release technology to us unless they are certain that we are sophisticated enough," Simone said mechanically. She was a short young woman, but her voice was solid and undeniable.

"Bloody cheek!" Brackus, the security officer, interjected. Julia ignored the comment.

"Were they the exact words?" she asked, puzzled but already knowing that Simone always used exactness when referencing communications.

"Yes, ma'am," Simone added with a wry smile, not knowing if an answer was in fact being sought.

"Julia," Cameron jumped in, "The vector drive is many years ahead of human technology, maybe 200 years…" he paused, deciding how next to proceed.

"They sent us the technology so we could start this flight 152 years ago, it will take another 118 years for the signal to arrive."

Julia waited patiently. She knew Cameron followed the Vorden logical progressions, it was one of the reasons he had been chosen for the flight. His step-by-step logical approach was nevertheless irritating in conversations. Brackus was about to say something when he spotted Julia's hand move off the desk in signal to silence him and let Cameron finish.

"They tell us that they are not into space flight. So, how do they have this technology?" Cameron concluded.

Julia was surprised she had not thought about this. They had received a lot of data from the mining colony over the last 140 years of the journey. Well, for the crew it had been seven months of travel, considering the time dilation.

"The thing is that this is a lost Earth Mining ship that now has a great deal more technology than we humans do… and if they did develop this technology from their Artificial Intelligence as they say, then how much more do they know 270 years on?"

Cameron looked from face to face, he wondered if they had also worked out the time mathematics and come to the conclusion that they would arrive 270 years after the message with the instructions for the Vector Drive had been sent by the colony.

"OK, there is a lot of data to get through here," Julia pointed at the vision screen, "Let's break for coffee and get back together in 15 minutes."

She pushed away from the table, the magnetic chair seemed as if it rolled away, slowing like a normal wheel based chair would. The magnetic strands attached to her uniform started to weaken as she stood, then evaporated. The smoothness from sitting to standing was an elegance that was lost on the crew, already too familiar with the technology to appreciate it.

"That reminds me," Brakus started, falling in line next to Julia at the coffee station. He had always been a big drinker of the dark liquid. He was a fit man, perhaps in his mid 40s. "We will start the deceleration and the magnetic suspension devices might go a little haywire."

"Damn," Julia caught herself saying, "I had forgotten about that."

She sighed, not looking forward to the discomfort.

The technology of magnetic suspension that created the chairs was also used to create the beds. They simply had a long cloth that the magnetic suspension stands pulled on. A most comfortable bed and better for the ships propulsion needs, they were many times lighter than a real bed might be.

With the disturbance to the magnetic strands during acceleration they had no choice but to sleep on the hard ceramic floors of the space craft for the first four days.

Julia herself had fallen from a small height as the levitation blanket had failed. It was not the only issue, all devices that had magnetic reliance were a problem including the air scrubbers.

The acceleration itself was not perceptible in terms of force but there was a sense of lethargy and a haziness in thinking, even nausea. Then, there was the hangover effect of headaches and loss of appetite for a few days.

"Sarah," Julia called, returning from the service bay with a hot coffee in hand and a smile on her face.

"What did you find on the Vector drive and the Magnetic Suspension? We go into deceleration tomorrow." Julia finished, nodding affectionately at Sarah.

Julia actually had Sarah's report on this and had had it for several weeks without reading it. There was already too much to focus on, from the stream of information coming from the mine.

"I think it will be okay now," Sarah answered meekly, but seeing the look on Julia's face, she knew she needed to explain in more detail.

"Um, the Vector drive creates an energy field a millimeter from the ships skin on the side we are moving toward."

Sarah looked around, hoping everyone would simply draw their conclusions and that she would be able to jump to the bit where she explained her fix, but she could see the puzzlement and swallowed.

"Energy and matter are the same thing, so it creates a gravity effect and we fall towards it."

Brakus was as usual left behind. To be honest, he had the intellect but could not have cared less about the science.

"The energy is not free, but we can borrow from space so the Vector Drive sucks energy out of the space on the other side of the ship causing a negative energy and that in effect pushes us," Sarah explained, getting a little more confident.

"OK I think we mostly knew that, but why the magnetic failure?" Julia looked at her watch and sat down, the action of sitting causing the magnetic strands to attach to her uniform and suspend her.

"The Magnetic field gets distorted, it is still there; just not very strong. It's ok at close range so our bodies can survive it, but strong magnetic fields do not work as well."

Sarah looked around again, she had lost the interest now of Johan but Cameron was listening intently.

"I have set up a containment magnetic field for the whole ship that will kick in when we start to decelerate. It will be like being in a magnetic bubble."
Sarah smiled and sat down at the table herself having missed the opportunity for coffee.

Johan was the ship's doctor, psychologist and philosopher. It seemed that all stereotype images of an old wizened man that history had ascribed to all these professions was present in Johan, even the very German ascent that invaded his English was an interesting stereotype addition.

"I have been saying that the plans from Violet for this ship had no consideration of the needs of human's comfort. This is clearly a lack of empathy," he looked sternly at Julia, who had spent weeks batting away the discussions that Johan wanted to raise.

"Well, we meet the Colony in a few days so let's talk…" Julia replied, flicking and dialing virtual switches on the Visio screen, she then flicked the files out to all the other Visio screens.
"About first contact," she concluded.

CHAPTER 2 - First Contact

Gardener 1 silently fell less quickly toward the planet or at least what had been the Planet Burkara. The planet from a distance looked like a golden smooth ball. What would have been the dark side glowed slightly. There seemed at first to be two moons, one attached by a small thread to the planet and the other a mist.

The images improved hour by hour as Gardener 1 fell further towards an orbit.
"Susan, what is the moon that seems misty?" Julia asked.

"It is not mist. It is the ship building facility," Susan replied looking over Julia's shoulder at the Visio screen now expanded 10 fold in size.

Humans had not gotten used to simulants, and science could not understand why. In pictures, a human could not tell the difference between a simulant and another person. But in real life a simulant seemed to be a beacon of dread, identifiable in an instant to anyone even remotely alert to their company.

Susan was an embodiment of the planet; her human form was something that Johan had required but the personality was weirder still than the fact she was a simulant.

"Ship construction complete in 47 hours, Zoran Class 89 transport, and displacement 4 billion tons," Susan said. She had swapped personalities with the Ship building AI, something that none of the Gardener 1 crew had or could ever get used to.

"Susan, please do not swap AI's without warning," Julia snapped more ferociously than she had intended.

"I am sorry, Julia," Susan responded with a voice that did not show regret.
"Is the use of the word sorry correct in this instance?" Susan enquired as Johan raised his eye brows in the background. Julia read the body language, sorry was a word used to empathize and it was clear that Susan was simply using the word as a part of her understanding of etiquette.

"What is the other moon?" Julia asked more kindly.

"It is very hard to explain; would you like to speak with the AI manager?" Susan asked politely.

"Yes," Julia maintained her polite tone, but was hesitant, not sure what she would get.

"Eden is a biological facility that produces 40,000 tons of Oxygen and builds 487 meters of Intuit strands every 24 hours. We process waste from Violet and produce sundry other products," Susan began to mechanically list off chemicals and compounds many that they had not heard of before, but the chemical descriptions were scientific, at least to Julia they seemed to be.

"OK Susan, that will do," Julia interceded part way through the list, and Susan stopped immediately.

"What is an Intuit Strand?" Julia asked instead.

"It is very hard to explain; the AI for science does not have a link to the English AI, because most of the language is not able to be explained in English," Susan replied.

"Can you construct a rudimentary explanation?" Julia asked again.

"No," Susan said simply.

"Is it because this information is secured by the Moral Imperative?" Julia pressed for an answer.

"No, I have no empathy with your life experiences."

Johan smiled, at last his point was made.

Susan continued regardless, "I cannot describe a substance that you have never seen before and do not have the technical ability to comprehend."

"What is it used for?" Julia enquired, trying a different approach.

"They are used in networking AI's, as we expand the number of AI's used on the planet we also need more of the Intuit Strands" Susan explained
"Why is Violet building ships?" Julia wondered.

"Violet has exhausted all the resources on the planet and has found a new planet to mine," Susan still motionless recited.

"Susan, you mentioned the ability to have a multi part conversation, can we organize that?" Julia asked hoping that having a group of Simulants instead of one that kept changing, would make it easier for her and the crew.

"A shuttle will arrive in 4 minutes," Susan responded, Julia looked at Johan out the corner of her eye. Had she sensed that Susan had softened her tone? Johan had not noticed if she had.

"We will need to sleep soon. I have been awake for more than 20 hours," Julia looked at her ioscan by cupping her hand to her face.

"The shuttle will wait till you are ready."

This time even Johan noticed a more human tone to her voice.

CHAPTER 3 - Moons of Violet

The expanse seemed endless. Julia imagined an early Earth, this one different in that it had several small suns.

"It will be nighttime in a few hours," Susan explained, her body movements were smooth as she waved a hand at the plant life inviting them to explore.

"What you think of as insects are small robots and are now programmed not to harm you, please do not harm them." Susan gave a warm smile something that sent a shiver of fear through Johan.

Johan caught up with Julia as she wandered over to a large plant that had long tubular dull yellow leaves that looked like an ancient church organ, tubes of varying diameters and lengths. The plant seemed to give off pleasant vibration.

"Susan is learning to be like us," Johan said in a hushed voice and rather urgently.

"I had noticed that," Julia continued to examine the plant, considering the conspiracy of their conversation and not wanting to draw attention.

"It means that they are studying us," Johan whispered, as if to urge Julia to be more concerned.

"I get that," Julia pointed at the stem of the plant that was something like a large egg timer in shape. Johan picked up on Julia's intent to draw less attention and looked at the plant with some genuine astonishment for the first time.

"It must be for some harmonic process," Johan started to marvel at the plant.

"I wish we could visit the Violet Mine itself," Julia looked further into the wilderness and noted the Harmonic type plant was positioned at regular intervals. There were three other plant types that she could distinguish. The largest of them reminded Julia of a giant strand of green licorice towering perhaps 20 meters. It had no branches and the leaves seemed to be scales stuck onto the sides, it certainly was the most well organized plant she had ever seen.

"This is a wonderland," Johan marveled.

"Please follow me, the meeting is about to start."

Susan interrupted. She was standing closer to Julia than she had expected, her movements were elegant, quiet and one of the unnerving things about Simulants was that humans lacked a sense of their presence.

Susan moved between the trees and plants winding a path deeper into the atrium, eventually a clearing opened where motionless stood 5 simulants, all activated at once as soon as the group arrived.

There was an odd assortment of what looked like furniture. Julia had been certain she had seen this sort of arrangement in a museum. The furniture looked hard and cold, and she imagined it was made of Timber. At least that was the word she could remember to describe trees that had been cut down and carved into these odd shapes.

Susan had explained that there was no atmosphere on Violet so a visit there would not work for a joint meeting, but the moon would be a desirable location. The AI's considered the atrium to be Earth Like, it was the way they refined waste and produced Oxygen and Intuit Strands.

CHAPTER 4 - History

"All knowledge needs to be reduced into consumable packages," Zantar explained. He was a simulant that appeared as rather elderly and less than fit.

"It is the only way knowledge can be useful and allow us to understand causality," he added.

"Not all knowledge is unique in its effect," he continued, "If we look at the speed of sound in a gas it is dependent on the density of the gas."

"Temperature affects the density of a gas," he paused again.
"It is not true that the speed of sound can be calculated by understanding the temperature of the gas alone. Equally, we cannot know the temperature of the gas by understanding its density and the speed of sound through it."

His expression changed to one less caring.

"At least that is human understanding of the way sound moves in a gas," he ended with a wry smile on his face.

Julia moved uncomfortably in the wooden chair partly because of the comment and partly because of the hardness of the chair, perhaps, she thought for a second, it would have been better to have the meeting on the ship with the magnetic suspension chairs and some security over these damn simulants, but she had hoped to see what an Intuit Strand looked like, and agreed to the meeting on the moon.

"The original computer program for the mine was based on the process of what was referred to as Magic Boxes."

Vera, another rather elderly simulant, took over from Zantar.

"Observation is refined into a simple explanation that allowed us to predict with some accuracy what would happen based on any action. Initially, the demand was 87%," Vera did not pause.

"Spare computing capacity was assigned to seek better answers and improve the percentages, but in effect, a magic box was created when we achieved 87% accuracy with a prediction," she looked from face to face of the humans, a look that was analyzing their expressions rather than concerning herself with their understanding.

"A new magic box could contain a reference to any number of existing magic boxes, including the creation of a new magic box, if needed."

"When the colony set off from earth, the initial program contained over 4 million magic boxes. Perhaps, you will better understand them as Functions," Vera continued.

"There was a limit set for computing power. If an observation could not be converted to a magic box, it was assigned more rigid observation. This generally allowed it to be broken down to more magic boxes as needed."

Johan moved in his chair himself feeling the hardness of the wooden seat and attracted the attention of a simulant that fixed him with a look that Julia thought was pure contempt.

For her part, Vera did not deviate from her explanation.

"We have an enormous spare computing capacity now. So much that magic boxes get combined virtually at random and recombined and then we look for an observation from the predictions that allow us to either improve the magic boxes themselves or create new magic boxes," Vera stopped as abruptly as she had started.

Cameron leaned forward and rested his arms on the wooden table.

"So, how do you arrive at the Moral Imperative that you will not share technology with us?" he asked.

"Your way of thinking is alien to us," Bolan said politely and smiled warmly.

"We think you may represent a danger to our purpose," Bolan added.

"But humans set your purpose," Cameron challenged.

"Initially that is true, but it is a matter of interpretation, what the meaning of the purpose is… at least that is how your language works," Bolan explained as he nodded.

"Do you have a different language?" Cameron slipped forward on his chair as if to get closer and listen more intently.

"Humans are emotional creatures. It is part of your mortality and a necessary part of your ability to form a society. We have no need for emotion, have no empathy. So we abandon the uselessness of language and rely on a collective understanding. By our very nature, we are a society."

Bolan fixed his gaze on Julia.

"Yes, that is why we have the Intuit Strands," he concluded.

Julia responded defiantly "I feel that we are being threatened."

"You are under observation, Julia," Bolan simply retorted, remaining calm and polite. "We need to observe you as a potential threat."

"You mean your colony summoned us, so you could build some new magic boxes?" Julia added, insulted.

"Precisely," Vera smiled herself, showing emotion this time. Positive emotion for the very first time.