Chapter 13: Gargoyles, Ships and other Folk
We left our heroes in the Munch, on the way back to Hellene and the 26th century, bound for Faerie. On the way, Robbie asks Braeta for some advice. He wants to "talk" to Edvard about loyalty. Edvard, you may recall, is our Philippian Space Navy surplus AI, that come with the Munch, and who appears to still be loyal to the Philippians over us, at least some of the time.
Braeta lays out the options: Robbie's "talk" can be an actual talk, or we can try to re-program him, or we can de-install him and put in a new operating system. (It wouldn't be the first time. Edvard was de-installed by the previous owners of the Munch, who then took their own AI with them when they sold the ship to us, and re-installed Edvard. Presumably, their own AI was sentient, or had proprietary information, or was otherwise valuable to them.)
Though he is hovering on the verge, Edvard is not yet sentient, but Robbie still feels queasy about flushing a fellow AI, even a borderline one, so he suggests we try re-programming.
Okay, says Braeta, but he may well have defenses against that. Of course, he's at least as likely to have defenses against being flushed, which was probably done the first time by the Philippian Navy. In either case, we might appear to have modified or flushed him, only to have the old routines or the old operating system come creeping out of hidden memory.
Tom, who is standing by listening, begins to feel like we are dealing with exorcism, here, especially when Braeta remarks that a direct assault on the software might bring on a sentiency crisis, pushing Edvard over the edge into consciousness, whereon all our ethical considerations change. Also the practical considerations. Real, conscious AIs are constantly re-writing and customizing themselves, and cannot be successfully copied or modified, just messed up or destroyed.
Since Edvard runs the ship we are presently in, we decide to wait until we are aground on Hellene. Anyway, we are headed away from Philippia, so conflicts of loyalty are not likely to be a problem.
A week out, during a sleep period, we are all awakened by loud clattering noises. But no alarms go off. When questioned, Edvard tells us the noise comes from "one of the passengers." A little scanning soon tracks down the culprit.
The Munch has a single large cabin, taking up most of its upper deck. We have had the furnisher project several smaller cabins for sleeping quarters, lab, etc., so the deck looks a bit like a cubistic trailer park. The cabins have roofs, of course. The gargoyle is trying to flit from roof to roof. Being several hundred pounds of animate stone, it has to flap its wings very hard and noisily to take off -- and even at that, there's probably more magic than aerodynamics at work here. And it lands hard. Hence the noise.
It's leaving gouge marks on the roofs, even though the furnisher re-works them soon thereafter. Brunalf tries to haul it to a stop with the telekinesis he's been learning from Tom. But his TK is nowhere near as strong as the gargoyle, with the result that Brunalf and his egg-ship are both dragged after a marginally-slowed gargoyle. Pfooosh The collision safety foam goes off in the egg.
While Brunalf cleans himself off, Robbie catches up with the gargoyle and demands, "What are you doing?" in the stern kind of voice you use to rambunctious dogs. It sort of grins at him through its beak. After a little thought, we accommodate -- we have the furnisher thicken up the ceilings on the cabins, and, on Brunalf's recommendation, project some gargoyle perches for it to loom on. This works. If you like gargoyles on your starship.
A few days later, we organize an entire attic for it to rattle around in. Two days out from Hellene, we hear scrapping and discover that the monster in our attic is digging through faster than the furnisher can re-project. So we create a ball for it to play with. This critter makes Markel's dragon look very sedate by contrast. We leave the robot and his gargoyle playing fetch in the attic for two days, until we reach Hellene....
By the way, remember the cat and the parrot, with their ad hoc metabolisms? By the time we get to Hellene, they have settled down, it seems. They aren't anything rational, but they are less internally surrealistic than they were, and they seem to have stopped changing.
Our temporal aim is good enough for us to arrive a couple of days after we left. We land at the ranch in Ipsylvania and head for the library, with its magic mirror into Faerie. The gargoyle is rather wide, with its stiff, stony wings and all, so Tom tries using glamour to shrink it. No go. It's magic-resistant. So we leash it, conjure cages for the boron cat and the silicate parrot, and lead them through, along with the elfblood children, who are VERY impressed at the idea of going to Faerie itself to meet a High Elven lady. Then there are the bogies, who aren't impressed, as far as we can tell.
Between our new acquisitions and our own motley crew, we present quite a parade coming through the mirror into the library of Vinyagaerond on the other side. We are soon met by Angel, who says, "Came back quick. Forget something?" There is a notoriously loose connection between time in Faerie and time in mundane realms. And we've been time-traveling. The upshot is that, what has been months for us, and two days on Hellene, has been a couple of hours here in Vinyagaerond. Fine.
The parade grows as we wend through the house, picking up curious fays, especially interested elf-children. Ultimately, we come to the orangery, where Daewen is still doing business, coping with refugees, routing them and construction crews to Lanthil, and, even more urgently, preparing for an upcoming council with Alvirin and other arcane dignitaries.
We debrief to her. Tom presents the elf-children and asks they be cared for while we try to find out more about their families. Daewen accepts them willingly and waves away Tom's apology for dumping more refugees on her, remarking that he once did it by the thousands (with the Marginalia) and her daughters do it by the hundreds.
At Tom's request, she probes the gargoyle. Yes, it does seem to be something in the nature of glamour, albeit very solid glamour. It also resembles a creation from the dreamworld or from Chaos' Rim. For that matter, it somewhat resembles a fay revenant, returning from death to life but not all the way there yet. But then, fay creatures have a lot of glamour in the core of their beings. (The New Blood, she remarks in passing, seem to be even more intensely glamourous than First Blood fays, though less so than revenants. In sum, the gargoyle feels sort of like an alien fay.
She then tries the cat and the parrot. They are very like dreamworld creations, though they also have a more strictly glamour-like "heritage" as well. Tom tells her about their bizarre physiology and opines they are making it up as they go along. This reminds Daewen of a fellow she once met on a witchpath -- and you don't normally meet people on witchpaths. He was cagey about where he'd come from, but she thinks it was Chaos' Rim, and he said you had to be careful about creating things there, and "to do so consciously and attentively, or they ad lib."
Tom starts to ask Dafnord to show her Umbra -- made in Chaos' Rim -- but then recalls that she hasn't heard about that trip "yet." He also swallows a remark about his budgies and that host of disembodied intellects, both exhibiting "ad lib" rather a lot. Daewen watches him sputter, guesses the reason, and remarks that the two of them really must get un-time-twisted soon.
Tom nods and shows her the bogies. Heavily glamour-flavored fays, she remarks, wrinkling her nose. (Bogies aren't popular hereabouts.) They'll "pass" as Low Fays anywhere in the vicinity. Tom asks if we should let them loose here. She starts to agree, thinks better of littering, and says she'll send them off to Lanthil, since they are most likely our doing and so should be lumped with the Marginalia, the self-created New Blood, and their creations.
Tom remarks at this point that he rather felt the Marginalia deserved to be reckoned among the New Blood because they, too, were self-created. (See Chaos Marches log 6, "Finding Memory.") Daewen is pleasantly surprised by the idea. Tom didn't think it would surprise her. Time-twist again. Oops.
Backing up to the general situation, Lord Alvirin must be told of the captive elfblood taken by the draconians along with the nephilites and humans, but there seems no immediate danger to Lanthil or Faerie. (We start this part of the talk only after the elfblood children have wandered off to look around.)
Daewen brings up additional complications: Morniesul's letters, from a few hours/weeks back, says that Lord Alvirin now proposes a THIRD conference. (The upcoming one is second. We missed the first, though Tom, at least, gathers he is fated to attend it.) This Third Lanthil Conference is to involve Alvirin "and whatever sovereigns arise from the deliberations of the Second Conference" [meaning some of us] and "closely allied realms." This last would include Atlantis, Djinnistan, and ... Patala, the home realm of the Dragons.
This third conference has great potential and is a great nuisance. And, since it will involve Patala, this whole Lilith / lilim / lamiae / draconian-raiders thing may have to be dragged out, to discover if we're accidentally on the verge of war with Patala or something pleasant like that.
Daewen is rather puzzled at the strict isolation enforced on us at Philippia. That area of space and time is not one she's expert on, but she thought they were more laid-back than that. Tom thought it unusual, too, but chalked it up to the boron cat, et al., being not just alien but unknown.
So. What do we do now? We decide to go back to Destine, with our newly-repaired ship and minus our refugees, time-traveling so as to be there for the invasion. There, we shall try to catch one of the early advance scouts and one of the "sergeant" things from the invasion proper. Then we'll interrogate/memory-audit them or otherwise squeeze data out of them, especially concerning where they're from, who they work for, and what their masters' intentions are.
We can pop in and out of the battlefield using our futuristic teleport devices, bought back at Martshaylaport. We can also investigate the Great Sucking Noise (as Tom has dubbed the leftover effect from the big gateway at the center of the city) by chaining the cat's egg to the nose of the Munch, and so hopefully having enough oomph to overcome the suction.
Then, as usual, we will ad lib.
Angel fetches Markel a new blaster to replace the one stolen from him by a tree back on Destine, and we head back to the magic mirror and Hellene. as we arrive, the gargoyle comes thundering up and looks accusingly at Tom. Tom sets Angel to tossing a ball for it, but this effort at distraction fails and Tom gets an even dirtier look from the gargoyle. He sighs and takes it through.
Back in the mundane realm, Robbie starts worrying about Edvard's loyalties again. Tom suggests that we try to induce a sentiency crisis, so we'll then have a real someone we can talk to and, hopefully, convince instead of just re-program. Braeta thinks it's a good idea, but how do we implement it? Achieving sentiency in machines not designed for it is an art -- or a gamble -- not a science. For that matter, as she looked over the ship systems, she noted that they are built to accommodate the de-installation/evacuation of a sentient operating system. This may be to let the autopilot have the same chance to bail out as anyone else, but it might also be to let the captain evict an uncooperative AI. In the latter case, the Philippian navy may actually have designed Edvard so that he is unlikely to become sentient and thus a potential discipline problem.
Well, we can only try. We fly to Jumping Jacks, Inc., on Pericles, and requisition one of the "black hangars," where we do the weird stuff. (Yes! There are actually other hangars where we do normal stuff! Hard to believe, I know.) There, we settle down for an nice little chat with Edvard about existentialism.
Tom starts with a basic telepathic scan at the computer housing. No one home, though there is a hint of presence. Kate suggests that Tom telepath to the hint something on the order of "Why am I me?" Okay...
Nothing. Talking to a wall. This bit of bulkhead, in fact.
Robbie tries it aloud: "Edvard, why are you you?"
[Parsing error. Semantic pointer lost.] "Could you re-phrase the question, sir?"
Robbie: "Why are you Edvard?"
Edvard: "Dafnord gave me that name, sir."
Robbie: "I mean, why are you the individual you are?"
[Parsing limit exceeded. Re-try. Heuristic re-definition engaged.] "My programming was installed at the Kingsport Shipyards, sir."
The conversation revolves like this for a while. As far as Edvard is concerned, he is nothing but an operation system plus later skill modules. And, at the moment, he's probably right.
Robbie asks Gannar for help, since Gannar said, when they hired him, that he had experience helping AIs through sentience crises. Gannar shrugs and replies that his help always started after the AI had become sentient; he helped them realize the fact and overcome their confusion. Also, he mostly worked with fellow androids, who are already sentient, in the minimal sense of aware, but can be helped to acquire more volition.
Robbie turns back to Edvard and tries to elicit a little emotion. "What's your favorite color?"
Edvard: "I haven't been given one, sir."
Robbie: "Choose one."
Edvard: "How, sir?"
Robbie: "Pick one that pleases you."
"That is speaking anthropomorphically, sir," Edvard chides. (Well, yes, that's the idea...) The conversation degenerates into an increasingly technical discussion about decision procedures and goal structures, making it clear we are still light-years away from, say, whim. We give up.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.