Iterative Science Fiction

Continuous Search

Posted in main story by Mark on November 24, 2009

The stick containing the credits wasn’t heavier or extra shiny, but I knew it was more special in five million little ways than any other credcard I’d had in a long while. I presented it to Kurt in the waiting room of the Ganymede Internment Center.
“You know what this credcard represents, Kurt?”
“Five million credits. I think you are implying some metaphoric relationship that is not readily apparent, though.” Deadpan, as usual.
“Well, sure I am. This means an actual animal slaughtered steak dinner. Perhaps a bottle of actual red wine; not because it tastes better than assembly drinks, but just because we can. How do you want to celebrate and be happy?”
He rose from the bench and followed me out into the walking path.
“We have had this discussion before, Ishmael. Just because I am sentient does not require me to feel certain emotions.”
People kept taking double takes at Kurt’s dull metal faceplate as they entered or exited the walkways. One salary man missed his exit from the runway and fell down. His briefcase spilled styluses and data pads.
“Okay,” I said. “Think a bit. What’s the emotion you experience the most?”
“When I am running low on joint lubricant, or am being treated unfairly despite my legal freedom, I experience an awareness of my condition that treats the constant internal reminders to be something like frustration, I believe, compared to what you and many authors have described.”
We side-stepped to the runway and were heading towards the space port.
“So all the time.”
“The majority of time.”
“When don’t you feel,” I made air quotes with my fingers, “frustrated?”
“When properly lubricated and on our ship. I am not sure you remember when we discovered that antique probe circling Phobos.”
We made the transition to another walkway and headed towards a ship resupply store.
“I remember. It cost our last fifty thousand to get the landing gear bay door fixed.”
“Yes. That one. I was curious that entries in the standard historical and navigation archives did not mention it, and had to do some extensive searching on the Interplanetary University Databases to find out it was a satellite from the twenty-first century.”
“So you like doing research?”
“I wanted to fix the blanks in the archives and my personal knowledge.”
“You wanted to, like code, or wanted to on your own?”
Kurt tapped the upper right side of his chest, which is like a human tapping their temple. “Just because my sentience is the result of a complex, emergent software grafted into a hardware frame does not mean my programming makes me do anything more or less than the systematic pulses your neurons provide from inside your chemically fueled brain. I wanted to, as in I had a desire.”
I rolled my eyes. It was something Kurt couldn’t do, which I liked. “Right, whatever. So here’s what you can do. I’ll transfer twenty thousand credits to our second credcard.” I handed him a credcard which he took in his digits like he was studying a disgusting new bug. “Then you can go find a pre-spacer science book, or get yourself a subscription to a new library or database.”
We exited the walkway and stood in front of the port’s refueling and provisioning office. As I took a step to walk in, Kurt put a hand on my shoulder. The move startled me inside, but I made an effort to hide the surprise.
“Ishmael, to what end? This celebration money could be spent on our search to find a place where the inhabitants do not have this awful prejudice towards Second Men.” He gestured to two people trying too hard to look idle while leaning against the wall of the neighboring store. “Those two have been following us since the Internment Center.”
I took another look at them and decided they were toughs visiting friends in the GIC, cops in plain clothes, or both. Even I could tell their hands were holding on to something inside their coats.
“Twenty thousand will buy enough rations and fuel to take us somewhere else, Ishmael.”
“Fine, Kurt.” I poked him in his steel breastplate with a finger, words colored more by disgust than defeat. “But I’m buying you a complete nano scrub to go with a case or three of the top synthetic joint lube. Then go sit in the ship while I find some whiskey old enough to order another whiskey, and actual Terra-Asian style takeout while we wait for the fuel to get pumped.” I headed inside and started keying the ship’s details into the automated fueler machine. Kurt came in and stood behind me, watching the door.
“The nano scrub is unnecessary. I am well within the tolerable limits for foreign matter.”
“That’s the point of celebration, Kurt. It’s supposed to be unnecessary. Enjoy the sensation of being clean and not having any humans around. Maybe it will cut down on those internal reminders.”
“I predict that the state of being afterwards would best be described as peaceful. Right now, I am most likely grateful.”

“Be grateful for the joint lube.  I think it might be a while before we find the place.”

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