Ventus – Day 101 of 135

You became Calandria?

Yes, Axel, as best I could. There were many sights on Diadem that would stop any human in her tracks. To describe only one: one morning I emerged from a long hexagonal tunnel full of machine traffic to find myself on a hillside above a lake. This oval crater, at least two kilometers deep and five wide, was roofed with geodesic glass like others I had seen. It was muggy and hot here, and palm fronds waved dissolutely in an artificial breeze. Just then sunlight was falling in a single shaft through tiny trapped clouds onto the emerald surface of the lake. I gasped as Calandria would have at the light that shimmered there.

Elsewhere, I wept in frustration at my inability to create clothing or make fire for myself. I hugged myself and sang aloud for company. I tried to bargain with the Winds, and screamed my frustration when they would not answer.

At first, I did these things self-consciously, as a strategy to avoid the Winds’ detecting what I was. But I found that if I did this, I was continually booting up my model of Calandria and then shutting it down again after I had exhibited some behavior or other. It became obvious after a few days that the result was discontinuous: my emotions began with whatever I reacted to first upon booting up the model, then evolved until I shut it down. If I restarted it the continuity of my behavior was broken. I was acting like a mad woman, in other words, laughing one moment then crying the next, backtracking on my path as new emotional dynamics made me seem to change my intent in mid-step.

Finally I decided to boot the model and leave it running continuously. Then, when I lay down to “sleep”, I discovered that these emotions continued to react to my thoughts in the absence of other stimulation. So I began shutting off my thoughts as I “slept”.

I know Calandria May’s resourcefulness well. I did not let myself become injured or sick through all of this. I coped. I was, of course, searching for a way to escape. Gradually, it dawned on me that there might not be one.

Now you must understand the position in which I found myself. As a ship, I am sentient when I need to be sentient, and simply a physical body the rest of the time. I think as I need to think, and no more. Diadem is a complex place. I could not walk its halls without being alert. At the same time, I could not curl up and pretend to sleep, for the Winds would see through my deception if I slept more than a night. I could not pretend to die; they would try to recycle my remains. And I could not really die, for I had no assurance that my captain’s insurance claim would proceed without my testimony.

So I must walk, and think. I must ensure that I would not stop doing that, until I had found a way to escape. It was a simple matter to issue the commands to myself, but I did not realize what the result would be. Perhaps you guess.

There came a day when I fell upon my knees and begged the Winds to kill me, and I would have revealed my true nature to do that had I not commanded myself not to and then removed my ability to rescind the command. I was alone, trapped here perhaps for eternity, with my own thoughts. How I wanted to stop thinking! But my emotions continued to evolve as well, and they commanded me to exist! persist! and to think.

Oh, I inherited my emotions from Calandria May, and I understand now that each human has a ruling passion, one that serves as the fountainhead from which flow all semblances of happiness, sadness, anger and joy. I understand you better for this, Axel; oh, I thought about you for long hours and days, make no mistake. I wished that I had modelled myself after you, instead of her, for your fuel is a kind of rage driven by joy that finds no outlet. But hers–she is like a wave of sorrow, swelling slow and implacable across the earth she treads. She is nothing but sorrow, and that is what I inherited. So I walked, and I wept.

I was so sunk in misery one day that that I walked into vacuum without realizing it. I suddenly realized I had not breathed in several minutes, and looked up to find myself in a giant cavern, looking at a distant cave mouth that let out out on the airless surface of Diadem. I had come through a cylinder airlock and the air had flown out without my knowing. Here I was, supposedly human, standing hipshot and indifferent in hard vacuum in a place whose temperature my feet told me must be a hundred degrees below zero.

Oops, I mouthed, but it was too late–my cover was blown. The realization came as a flood of relief; I could never have deliberately revealed my identity to the Winds, but chance had done it for me. Maybe they would grant me the grace of a quick end now.

But no, there were no sensors on the walls of this cave. There had been, but I could see where they had been ripped out. Near me, blocking my view of the larger area of the cavern, stood a giant oily-surfaced cube half the height of the cave mouth–fifty meters at least. I saw movement there: dozens of multi-limbed metallic forms crawled over its surface, teasing it apart. Pieces of it lay strewn across the cavern floor.

Maybe I could run back to the airlock without being discovered–but I suppressed the thought. For at least this moment I was free of my own manufactured instinct for survival. I chose to revel in the freedom, and walked down the cave floor.

As I approached the cube I recognized it: it was a fractal lab. …I see by your blank expression that you don’t know what that is. Quite simply, the cube was actually eight cubes stacked together, four and four. Each face of the larger cube exposed open sides of two of the cubes–like square-cut rooms without doors. The inside walls of these cubes were subdivided into four as well, with two diagonal faces open like smaller rooms. Inside these, subdivision again, and so on and on down the scale. The faces of the walls that were not open were festooned with instruments, arms, sensors, containment vessels–everything imaginable for investigation. These scaled down to, from macro-sized arms fifteen meters long down to microscopic tweezers. You can throw anything into a fractal lab and it will be devoured and all its secrets learned from top to bottom.

Whatever purpose the swans had had for this lab, they had abandoned it. It was being cannibalized now for parts. Parts for what?

I snuck by the working spiders and skirted the base of the lab to look out at the grey, undulating floor of the cavern. And there I saw myself.

–It was uncanny. A shimmering silver bird crouched in the grey dust, not twenty meters away. It was a perfect replica of the starship Desert Voice. Beyond it I spotted another, and then a field of a dozen more. The nearest one was incomplete; spiders were busily building its left wing from salvaged lab parts.

When the swans dismantled my starship form, they did not just discard it. They memorized its construction–digested it, in a sense. Now they were building an entire navy of replicas. With such a navy they could escape the vicinity of Ventus, where they are now trapped, and travel… anywhere. The Archipelago. Earth. Even leave the galaxy and take spores of themselves to distant provinces of the universe.

When I realized what I was seeing fear struck me hard for the first time. Ventus has awoken from its inward-turned sleep. It is determined to clean the infection of foreign ships out of even the farthest reaches of its system–and then what? I didn’t know. I don’t know.

Something knocked me down. Metal hands clawed at me, and I fended them off to find myself surrounded by spiders. I kicked to my feet and bounded over to the half-built replica.

Our own technology is far beyond that of the Winds, so they had simply copied most of my body. That meant that when I mounted the neck of the giant bird and plunged my hand through its silver skin, I was in a sense reaching into my own body–my old body, reborn.

The connection came as a savage blast of… pain, I suppose you would call it. I felt the nervous system of the replica, and could instantly feel the places where the Winds had grafted their own mechal minds into it. It felt botched, an abomination. More than that–the bird-form felt alien to me now. I had grown used to this four-limbed little body, maybe past the point of no return. Believe me, that realization was the greatest shock I have ever felt.

In any case the silver body had lurched to life beneath me. I held on, as it flexed its wing and half-wing, poured energy into its flanks and took off. Behind me I saw others snapping to attention, heads up, weapons systems turning at me.

I fled for the mouth of the cavern and they followed.

You know the rest. We exchanged shots at the mouth of the cavern, and I brought the ceiling down on them. One fusion blast had punctured my torso, and I felt the energies there go awry as I rose in a spiral away from the cavern. I got no more than a kilometer or two into space before the silver body exploded beneath me and I rose on a wave of flame into the black sky.

I altered my trajectory with the little energy I had left, trying to leave Diadem behind. Then I made myself sleep, for my mind was ringing with the shock of what I had just seen and done.

When I awoke, I was here.

So now I ask you, what will happen to me? I have fulfilled my purpose, but I can no longer cease to exist by myself. I have inherited Calandria May’s sorrow, and am lost myself without the purpose I once had. I can never be a ship again. So please, I beg you, shut me down now.

I never wanted to have a soul.

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