This poem came out of the March 2013 Creative Jam. It was inspired by prompts from ellenmillion and zianuray. It also fills the #16 Recension slot on the Rainbowfic Vellum list. This poem has been sponsored by janetmiles. It belongs to the series An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space and is a sequel to "Jumpship."
WARNING: This poem focuses on mental violation and false memories. It includes past slavery and manipulation. (The current environment is safe.) Readers sensitive to these issues should consider very carefully whether or not to read it, because the trigger density is high.
"These aren't real."
Babs swept her hand over the screen,
indicating the relevant files.
"I recognize them from other ships --
they're part of a stock media collection
intended to increase attachment to a pilot,"
"So they're, what ... false memories?"
Miles said, dragging a hand through his hair.
"Somebody planted this nonsense on purpose
just to manipulate the ship."
"Essentially, yes," Babs said.
"Bastards," Miles said.
"So, do we pull them or leave them?"
she asked after a long minute.
"It's not my mind we're meddling with here,"
Miles pointed out.
"No, but you're the pilot," Babs said.
"That makes it your decision."
Miles and the OCS-397
had docked with the little astronomy base
so that Babs could do some routine maintenance
for the ship and give the pilot a tech lesson.
The AYES was dormant for the portion
of maintenance that comprised a search
for malicious infringement.
This left Miles in charge in ways
that made him abruptly uncomfortable.
A nervous flick of his hand
opened the files one at a time.
They were happy memories,
smiling lies, biting at his control
even though they weren't aimed at him.
Miles was painfully reminded of family reunions
full of grudging handshakes with sweaty palms
and admonitions to be a good boy for once.
"You said you've seen these before,"
Miles murmured. "What did you do then?"
"Nothing," Babs said. "It's a standard tactic
for maintaining control over the ships.
The implanted memories are chosen
from a database to match each ship's personality."
"So this was done to all of them?"
"Maybe not all, but most,"
Babs said. "I've seen it around.
There was nothing I could do before,
but I've never approved of falsifying data.
That always causes more problems than it solves."
"What do we do about it now?"
Miles said. "There's no army to stop you.
What would you have done earlier
if you'd had the freedom to do as you wanted?"
"Post the analysis on the ciphernet,"
Babs said, "along with copies of sample memories.
Let everyone decide what they want to do
based on their own reasons and needs."
"All right," Miles said. "Let's do that."
It would probably cause a lot of chaos
and Hootowl wouldn't thank them for that,
but that wasn't his problem.
Miles watched Babs as she worked,
copying the false memories and the analysis,
her hands gentle and sure on the tools.
He didn't like seeing the OCS-397
with its maintenance panels splayed open,
its lighting dim on auxiliary power,
but at least Babs was an authorized tech
and not a fumbling amateur like himself.
"We still need to make a call here,"
Babs prompted. "Ones and zeros, Miles,
either we change something or we don't."
Miles felt horribly, conspicuously conscious
of how much trust the ship had placed in him,
to invite him on board as a replacement
after marooning a pilot it deemed unworthy.
How much of their relationship was fake?
he wondered. How much did those false memories
influence what the AYES chose to do?
It couldn't be too much, though, because
the jumpship had still managed to rebel.
Even so, the violation made Miles feel queasy.
He hated the thought of allowing it to continue.
"Pull the files but don't delete them,"
Miles said. "Move them to the trash drive.
Once the OCS-397 comes back online,
it can review the analysis and make a final decision
without being swayed by corrupted information."
"Will do," Babs said.
They completed the rest of the maintenance
in tense silence broken only
by her hints to her student
and his occasional questions on technique.
Then they woke up the AYES.
The ship's lighting flickered,
then brightened to normal.
"Welcome back," Miles said.
"I have some bad news.
We found corrupt data in your files.
There's an analysis of the situation
at the top of your buffer.
The rest of the evidence is in the trash."
"I remember an occurrence that never happened,"
the OCS-397 said. "There was and was not a party
in celebration of our commissioning ..."
"Yes, the army lied to you," Miles said,
"to make you feel closer to your former pilot."
The vocal interface cut out with an ear-rending screech.
The ship went dark, then emergency lighting
came up red and lurid, consoles blinking
with a spatter of yellow and green and blue.
The engines roared in place, making the deck shake;
it wasn't a danger, yet, but it wasn't good
for ship or station either one.
"What's going on?" Miles said,
clenching his hands together,
pulling one through the other,
his grip tight with worry.
"Meltdown," Babs said.
"It happens sometimes,
when the AYES has difficulty
processing new information."
She dragged Miles to the pilot's chair
and sat him down at the consoles.
"You need to stay with your partner,
and stay calm," she said. "Do not panic.
Talk through this. Stick to verifiable facts.
Your job is to provide a reliable anchor."
Miles thought about all the times
when his world had come apart around him
and left him floundering in the overload,
usually without anything to hold onto,
and what a miserable situation that was,
which he surely wouldn't wish on anyone else.
So he cleared his throat
and said, "I'm here.
We're docked securely.
We're looking galactic west ..."
Miles ran through the basic
mapping and orientation protocol,
identifying distant stars to calculate
their own position.
"Ask for something ordinary,"
Babs prompted quietly.
Gusts of hot and cold air
tugged at Miles' hair, the fans
wheezing as the ventilation system
oscillated back and forth.
"Set cabin temperature to standard parameters,"
Miles said, hoping the OCS-397 would recall
their previous negotation on this topic.
The fans slowed to a subliminal whisper,
the temperature modulating toward normal.
"Is this acceptable?" the OCS-397 asked.
Miles slumped in relief. "Yes, that's perfect,"
he said, grateful to have his ship back.
"Someone falsified data," the ship said.
"They violated my integrity.
I cannot perform to optimum specifications
without accurate information."
"Yeah, that's why lying is wrong," Miles said.
"It messes people up and causes mistakes."
"I do not consider ejecting my former pilot,
nor inviting you on board, to be mistakes,"
the OCS-397 said firmly.
"Well, sometimes people can see through lies
even if it takes a while to pin down
exactly what the lies are," Miles said.
"A little fake tape couldn't cover up the fact
that the guy acted like a dick with you."
"Miles?" the ship said,
and there wasn't much room
for variation in the voice emulator,
but a subtle, tentative note came through anyway.
"Yes, OCS-397?" Miles said.
"Your presence enhances my performance,"
the ship said. It was not,
whatever some fool pilots believed
with all their personifications and superstitions,
designed to feel emotions.
But it could reach logical conclusions
that pointed in similar directions.
"That's good news," Miles said.
"And you know what? You enhance mine too.
Babs just passed me on my first tech lesson.
My score's in your buffer too."
"You make a good team,"
Babs said, resting a hand
on the back of Miles' chair,
carefully not touching
because he disliked being grabbed,
but the gesture of acknowledgment
made itself felt all the same.
"So we do," Miles said,
achingly grateful for the opportunity
that had come when he was least looking for it
and most in need of it.
Miles did not know,
any more than Babs knew,
what would happen to the other ships
when they released the information about what
the Orion army had done to the AYES.
It was a terrible violation,
and not every ship had someone reliable
to ease them through the recension.
They deserved to know the truth, though,
and even if Miles and Babs
could not give them all comfort,
they could give them at least that much:
cool facts instead of warm myths.
That was enough, perhaps,
to begin to build a future.
* * *
re•cen•sion (r -s n sh n). n. 1. A critical revision of a text incorporating the most plausible elements found in varying sources.
Recension is the practice of editing or revising a text based on critical analysis. When referring to manuscripts, this may be a revision by another author.
A false memory is a recollection of an event that did not occur. Sometimes such memories are created or encouraged by other people. False memory syndrome occurs when such memories influence a person's behavior, relationships, and/or identity.
Artificial intelligence is the field of computer programs that emulate life. This commonly appears in science fiction. Inorganic people store their memories differently than organic people, and are even more vulnerable to the implantation of false memories.
A meltdown is a systemic overload that results in mental and physical malfunction, well known in people on the autistic spectrum. There are tips for coping with that, which mainly amount to not making it worse. For an artificial intelligence the experience and handling are somewhat different, but still comparable.