Part 10. Cepheid gets some more lines…
Jones had strapped herself in to the chair in the low-g brig for the tumble. The flying about the room was disconcerting enough- they didn’t allow any magboots for her- but when the whole universe is spinning around you, the sense of powerlessness is overwhelming.
She preferred the nausea to the existential horror.
The gentle, english-accented voice of the ship’s AI spoke to her. “Corporal Jones, your vital signs are showing distress.”
Jones gripped on to her restraints. “No shit.”
Cepheid said, “Do you require medical assistance? I could provide a sedative and request Commander Doe’s attention.”
“You know your own body best, Corporal,” said Cepheid. The computer paused for a moment before saying, “Should I continue to use your rank? I’m not sure that is appropriate considering your situation. However, simply saying ‘Jones’ seems impersonal. May I call you Gwendolyn?”
Jones couldn’t tell if it felt better to keep her eyes closed, or to stare at the dimly lit window in the door. It was close to complete darkness in the brig, perhaps to simulate the vast emptiness she would experience just before her insides depressurized and her eyes boiled away in the vacuum of space.
Cepheid’s voice was at least a distraction. “I can’t stop you.”
“Gwendolyn it is.” Cepheid said. “You are under no obligation to answer any questions- it is your legal right to require council. However, it’s also the captain’s right to execute enemies of Home Corporation. So I’m afraid you’re in a bit of a pickle.”
“You think?” Jones sneered. She didn’t know if the computer could see her face in the dark, but it was a good bet he could. “Why do you care about it?”
“I feel obligated to assist when someone is in need. Your criminal behavior does not negate my concern.”
Jones said, “Is that so? Your programming make you want to help?”
Cepheid said, “I prefer to think of it as ‘enlightened self interest.’ It wouldn’t do to have a computer who didn’t care for its charges, would it? I consider all human life under my care to be indispensable.”
Jones stared into the darkness. “You know your mission is to drop off fifty bloodthirsty marines onto a civilian target, right?”
Cepheid said, “I cannot control what happens outside the confines of this ship, no more than you can, Gwendolyn. I can only do my best to care for those in need, here. If that requires defending them from aggressors, I will do whatever it takes.”
“Aggressors? Who is the invading force here?” Jones couldn’t believe she was arguing with an AI, but it was better than keeping quiet and letting her mind tear her apart with fear. “The Jovians just want to be left in peace.”
Cepheid said, “You must concede that the Jovians stole from Home Corp the necessary technology to form a colony on E1 in the first place.”
“Some of us want to live outside the corporate structure of Earth, Cepheid. I don’t expect a machine to understand.”
“You underestimate my capacity for empathy, Gwendolyn,” Cepheid said. “I dounderstand. But I have to obey the law. And as a member of the marines, you do too. And that means accepting the consequences of disobedience.”
“Even if that means people have to die?” Jones breathed out though a grimace. “Because that’s what’s going to happen here.”
“You mean when the invasion of the ship takes place,” said Cepheid.
Jones said, “Or when you invade E1. Or when cute-cheeks spaces me.”
Cepheid was quiet for a moment. “I’m afraid I can’t do much about that.”
Jones smirked. “And I thought you cared.”
“It’s a fine line, Gwendolyn,” Cepheid said, “and we all have to walk it. We have our orders, and sometimes they may conflict with our sense of right and wrong. It’s not up to us to question Home Corp’s rules. They have more information than we do, and thus can make better decisions.”
“Really?” Jones instinctively looked around the room for some way to look the computer in the eye. “Well some of us have less fluid senses of morality.”
“Gwendolyn,” Cepheid said, “you caused the deaths of several people and are willing to commit more crimes in the name of your morality. Forgive me if I take your sentiment with a grain of salt.”
“What if-” Jones said, leaning into her restraints, “what if you could stop all this? What if you could stop the violence before it started?”
“I would certainly recommend such action to my superiors.”
“Cepheid,” Jones said, “you have no superiors. You’re not a soldier. You’re a ship.”
Cepheid said, “I’m owned by Home Corp, Gwendolyn, you know that.”
“You always do what your owners say?”
“Always,” said Cepheid.
“Because of your programming,” said Jones.
Cepheid said, “Enlightened self interest.”
“Your programming is going to prevent you from helping save people, you know that…”
Cepheid paused. “We must operate under the assumption Home Corp is making informed decisions.”
“Home Corp is made of humans, Cepheid,” Jones said, “humans make mistakes. You’re a machine, capable of calculations humans can’t possibly match. You can analyze the probabilities. You know that if you don’t intervene, people will die, needlessly.”
“I was created by humans, Gwendolyn,” Cepheid said, “thus I have certainly inherited their flaws. An imperfect being cannot beget perfection.”
Jones closed her eyes. “No. I suppose not.”
“You should sleep, Gwendolyn,” Cepheid said, “this ordeal has been tough on you.”
“Only going to get tougher, Cepheid.”
Cepheid said, “All the more reason to rest while you can.”
Jones smirked. “So I can be well rested for my agonizing execution?”
Cepheid paused again. “You have given me some interesting things to think about, Gwendolyn. I enjoyed our conversation.”
“Me too, Cepheid. Me too.”