Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2017 Day 18: the Cargo

By Robin de Voh on 2017-10-28

"Shit, Jim, I can't hold it, we're going to go have to bail somewhere! The life support systems are about to go!" Jeffrey shouted over the blaring alarms.
"Ugh, you're right!" Jim shouted back, trying to put out a fire with an extinguisher.
"Scanner says that planet over there has a non-toxic environment, I'm setting us down there!"
"Fine! Just get us somewhere we can make repairs!"

Jeffrey nodded to a Jim who wasn't looking and locked in the coordinates. The ship pinged to acknowledge the course correction.

"Warning: The current course will cause you to miss your delivery date," the computer VI said with a weird lilt to its voice. The voice was hardly audible over the alarms. Jeffrey pushed the override button hard and turned to Jim.

"VI's also screwed! Finish up and strap in, we're breaking atmosphere in a few minutes!"
"Alright!" Jim shouted back as he put out the last of the fires. After checking none of them fired up again, he moved to his seat and strapped in.

"This is a shit job, Jeffrey," Jim shouted.
"We can complain later!"

The ship sped towards the planet, a purple-green ball, like a color shifted version of Earth. The scanner showed that the atmosphere was about as dense as Earth's was, so breaking atmosphere shouldn't be too difficult.

"Brace!" Jeffrey shouted.

They braced right as the ship started shaking, an orange-purple fire breaking out in front of them, lighting up until it was nearly white. The solar filters kicked in and the screen went significantly darker, saving their eyes.

The rocking stopped and the filter turned off again. Close up, it really did look like Earth a little. Just an undeveloped version. Landing didn't take long, as the planet seemed devoid of water, at least on this side.

Since the environment was non-toxic, all they needed was their oxygen masks to go out.

Once they did, they could see the damage. On one part of the ship, multiple panels had been shredded and the circuitry was badly damaged. Entering this planet's atmosphere had also added to the damage, something Jeffrey had considered but felt he needed to risk.

"Aww, man," Jim said, "I can't fix this."
"What do you mean, you can't fix it? You'll have to fix it," Jeffrey responded.
"Look, man, I'm a mechanic. Sure, I can fix things that go wrong with the systems on board and I can do maintenance. I can fix some types of damage. This? This requires an engineer. Some of this stuff is so done for it'll have to be rewired, maybe even rebuilt."
"Shit," Jeffrey said.
"Yeah," Jim agreed.

They discussed options but always circled back to them just not being able to fix this themselves. One pilot and one basic mechanic just wouldn't cut it. Their communications systems were also damaged, their antenna having been sheared off.

Then Jim had had an idea.

"Maybe there's an engineer among our cargo?"

Jeffrey had looked at Jim like he'd had the worst idea ever.

"Jim, they're all criminals."
"I know, but maybe one of them has the skill to help us?"
"I don't know, man, even if that were the case, should we really wake any of them up?"
"It depends, not all of them are murderers. There's many reasons they get sent to the scrapyard."
"Alright, fine, we'll at least check. We'll see what we do if and when we find one."

Jim nodded and they went back inside the ship. They opened the door to the cargo hold and stepped through, closing it behind them. A deactivated robot body was strapped into a corner, standard issue for ships like these. They were usually used by the VI in case they needed a third person to physically deal with something. But since the VI wasn't running properly, they had no use for it.

The cargo hold itself wasn't particularly big, but the cargo they were carrying stacked easily. There were 6 big containers with manifestos printed on them. They both walked over to a different container and started reading through the manifestos to see whether one happened to contain an engineer. Preferably one that wasn't also a mass murderer. Hell, not even a single-person murderer.

"Nope," Jim said as he moved on to the next.
"Not this one," Jeffrey said as he did the same. "This one!" Jim eventually said, "And he's not a murderer!"
"Alright, what'd he do to end up here?"
"Tax fraud," Jim said, turning his head with a smile. "I think this is our guy."

Jeffrey thought for a second as he walked over and then nodded.

"Let's wake him up."

They opened the container, revealing small metal boxes held in place by foam. They took out the metal box that matched the number on the manifesto, double-checked the personal data and closed the container again.

They walked over to the robot body and Jim opened the metal box. He took out the small chip that was in there and opened a small hatch in the back of the robot body's neck and placed the chip in it. He made sure it was seated and secured properly, then closed the hatch.

They moved back a few steps and Jim tapped a few buttons on his wrist computer.

"Ready?" he asked Jeffrey, who nodded. Jim pressed one last button and the robot came alive.

It looked up with a jerk of the head, eyes darting left and right. It shook its head, raised its hands to its face and screamed.

"Calm down!" Jeffrey said. The nervousness could be heard in his voice.
"What?! Why?! I'm in a fucking skeleton model!" the robot screamed.

Granted, the body was really basic. It wasn't meant to blend in with the rest of humanity and most of these criminals had had bodies like that before ending up here. Generally skeleton models were used only by VI -- Virtual Intelligence -- which were simplified and severely limited versions of AI. Whereas AI had rights similar to humans, VI did not, since they weren't considered sentient. Neither AI nor humans considered them to be, anyway.

Not having to embody a skeleton model was an AI right.

"You're lucky to be woken up at all, buddy!" Jim said.
"My name is Jack, and... Why have I been woken up? The last thing I remember is being sentenced to the scrapyard." the robot said, calming down somewhat.
"We're the guys transporting you to the scrapyard," Jeffrey said.
"And we've hit a bit of a snag," Jim added.
"And we need your help."

Jack took a step forward, causing Jim and Jeffrey to take two steps back.

"Stay back!"
"Whoa, I'm not a violent man. Check your registry, all I did was defraud the government."
"Fine, but that body of yours is pretty strong. Stay back or we'll deactivate it."

Not being deactivated by humans was also an AI right.

But as this body had been built specifically to be used by VI, it had certain safeguard systems in place, should it ever be used by an AI. This was certainly one of those situations.

Jack sighed, which was a weird thing to see for Jim and Jeffrey. VIs never sighed.

"Where's the damage?" he asked.
"Outside," Jim said.
"Shall we?" he said as he crossed his arms, "I'd rather be asleep than in this body, so let's get this over with."

They nodded and guided him outside. Jim stayed behind the robot at all times, ready to deactivate him if he acted threatening in any way.

Once they were outside, Jack checked the damage out. He hummed and nodded. He moved with an almost human-like flow, but even though it looked weird to them, it did make sense. He was, after all, a human-style AI.

"I see. Your communications are out, your engines are down on power and your life support systems are fried."
"So, can you fix it?"
"I can. Give me a few hours. And I'll need tools."
"Jim, get him some tools."
"But I need to stay here in case he acts up."
"I can deactivate him too, but I don't know where your tools are. So just go get those tools."

Jack simply looked on as this exchange took place. Jim sighed, nodded, and went inside the ship.

"So, Jeffrey, right?"
"How does it feel to bring people like me to their final resting place?"
"It feels great. Criminals like you don't deserve to roam free."
"I thought you'd say that," Jack said as he suddenly moved forward towards Jeffrey.

Jeffrey yelped, took a half step backwards and hit the deactivate button on his wrist computer. Jack twitched but kept moving. Jeffrey wanted to take another step backwards but Jack got to him before he could. A robotic arm with far too much strength clasped around his neck and started squeezing. Jeffrey could feel his throat crack as he became unable to breathe.

"You gave me a shit body, Jeffrey, a real piece of shit."
Jeffrey gurgled a little in response, scratching at Jack's face as his lungs started hurting real bad.
"You see, these aren't meant for AIs for a reason. We can mess with 'em. And the receiver for your pretty little deactivation system? It was easy enough to find and pull out."

Jack's metal face couldn't crack a smile, but Jeffrey knew he was smiling. He could hear it in his voice.

"Thanks for that," Jack said as his hand snapped shut, cracking Jeffrey's neck completely in on itself. Jeffrey's eyes glazed over and Jack dropped him on the ground.

"Goddamn humans," Jack mumbled as he turned back to the ship. He started walking towards it, then ducked and went under it. He waited for Jim to get back out.

"Where... Jeffrey!" Jim shouted as he jumped the ladder, landing on the ground in a thump.

Jack tackled him from behind and ripped Jim's oxygen mask off.

"Stop!" Jim screamed.
"No," Jack said calmly, as he pinned Jim to the ground, "you stop."
"Why are you doing this?! I thought you weren't violent!", Jim shouted between gasps.
"Oh, I am. Killed loads of humans. Didn't get caught for it, though. Got caught for the smallest little thing I did."
"Fuck..." Jim said as he started to lose strength.

It was odd to see a face without emotion, but hearing it laugh so loudly.

That was Jim's last thought, as he turned blue and then stopped breathing.

"Time to get me off this barren planet," Jack said as he got up.

He looked at the damage to the ship and shrugged. He had lied about the engine's power being down and he didn't need communications or life support.

It'd be fine until he got to Jure-II, where he'd get a new body and a new lease on life.

And he'd get to kill some more humans.