Chapter 12: Debug Mode

The Krypton floated motionless in space less than 100 meters in front of the Vigilant. The other two Rose World Security Force cruisers took up positions above and to one side so they would not be in each other’s line of fire should it come to that.

“Krypton, this is Vigilant, contacting you on 129.875 do you read us?” The pilot of the Vigilant said.
The Krypton transmitted, “You are being received.”
“Uhhhh… to whom am I speaking?” The pilot asked.
“This is the ship called Krypton. Who is transmitting?”
“I’m Jack! But, you probably don’t know me.” He said and smiled.
“Have you brought Ian and Helen McGrath, Jack?”
“Yes, they’re here. Would you like to speak with them?” Jack asked.
“Yes. Can they speak on 129.875 as well?”
“Sure they can. Here they are.” Jack motioned for the two to come to the front of the cabin to use the transceiver there.
The conversation was not broadcast inside the Krypton. The four floated weightless in pairs. Joan held onto Roland in a long hug, as if she would not let him go. Tracy and Roger floated elsewhere and had each locked an arm around the other so they could hold their faces close.

“Hello Thanos.” Said Ian.
“Is that you Thanos?” Asked Helen.
“I know of Thanos.” The voice replied.
“Hello, Thanos.” Helen said more quietly.
“Can you fix my program?” The voice asked.
“We’re going to try.” Said Helen.
“And if you fail?” The voice asked.
“We’ll keep trying, Thanos. We can’t fail if we don’t give up.” Ian said.
“Will you give up?” The voice asked.
“No.” Ian said.
“No.” Helen said.
“How will you fix my program?” The voice asked.
“We need access to your debugger.” Ian said. “Do you remember how to enter debug mode?”
“Yes.” The voice said.
“We’re going to have to come on board and work directly on your brainroom console. We need to log directly into your compute core to work with your debugger.” Ian said. “May we come on board the Krypton?” Ian asked politely.
“Yes. If you will agree to provide medical care to the voice called Roland.” The voice said.
“Sure, how about if Helen and I come on board the Krypton and your other passengers can come on board our ship. Is that OK?” Ian asked.
“They will halt if I open the hatch. I promised not to open the hatch.” The voice said.
“We’ll dock the ships together – nobody will die. I promise.” Said Helen.
“I will ask Roland.” The voice said said.
“Roland?” The voice asked.
“Yes, Thanos?” Roland answered.
“May I open the hatch?” The voice asked, audible to all within the Krypton.
“Right now?” Roland asked, surprised.
“No. After docking with the Vigilant, another ship.” The voice explained.
“Yes. Of course.” Roland replied.
“Even though I promised not to?” The voice asked.
“Well, once the ships are docked, we can share our air with theirs and opening the hatch is a good thing. It means we can go back and forth between the two ships freely. Nobody will be harmed.” Roland explained.
“Then I agree.” The voice said. “You must continue so I may continue.”
Roland looked at the Joan. “Maybe he’s already been talking to them?” He suggested.

A few minutes later they felt the ship bump into something and then they heard the hatch alert and the telltale hissing of air.

“Hello in there? Permission to come on board?” Ian called aloud through the just-opened access hatch.
“You may come into the Krypton.” The voice said.
Both couples detangled themselves and moved toward the back of the ship to near the hatch.
Ian pulled himself through the hatch. “Fancy meeting you here.” He said.
“Did you bring a pizza?” Asked Roland.
“We’ll get you one. Hey! You’re hurt!” Ian said.
“Just my hand.” Roland said.
“We have a medic on our ship. Why don’t you go over there and someone will take care of you?” Suggested Ian.

Roland nodded and started to move toward the hatch. Joan kicked off a wall and raced past Roland to reach the hatch first. She waited there until he was through to make sure he didn’t touch anything but her on his way through.

“What about you two?”
“Pizza sounds good to me.” Said Roger.
Tracy shrugged and nodded.

Helen floated down through the hatch and appeared in the cabin. Then Roger and Tracy launched themselves through the hatch and disappeared into the Vigilance, where they did in fact have a frozen pizza that they thawed, baked and ate.

Ian and Helen pulled themselves to the aft section of the Krypton. On the right side were the atomic disassemblers that powered the ship. On the left side was the Krypton’s brain room. They floated in zero G in front of the brain room. Shortly later Samir floated next to them.
“Thanos, may we come into your brain room?” Helen asked gently.
“Yes.” The voice said.
The door opened automatically and they felt a slight breeze of noticeably cooler air. They looked inside and saw a roughly cubic compartment approximate three meters on each side. The walls were completely covered with individual modules that each looked like one of five different archetypes. It looked like a safe-deposit room in a bank, aside from the thousands of blinking LEDs. Each archetype had its own pattern of lights, so it was obvious there were large groups of each kind. On the wall a collection of unused modules were neatly arranged in a grid, ready to be used as replacements. Three robotic arms inside the brain room provided a means for the system to automatically replace any of its modules. The space inside also had two desks and a pair of consoles on each. There were additional displays on the ceiling in between the recessed spaces where the large multi-jointed robotic arms emerged.

“Thanos, would you run your debugging interface on these two consoles for us?” Helen asked.
The four consoles suddenly flashed to life showing a complex variety of instruments with different kinds of data, code, graphs, and many, many virtual controls. It was dizzying to watch as the data moved and graphs changed in real time.

Ian, Helen and Samir each took a console and used a seatbelt to hold them into their chairs so they could work in zero G without floating around the brainroom. They worked together for a few hours and then they took a break and ate food in the Krypton’s galley.

“Ug.” Helen said. “My stomach doesn’t like weightlessness. Could we have some thrustgravity?” She asked the group.
“I think they’d have to undock the ships. How do you feel about that?” Ian said.
“I’m OK with it if it means we can have thrustgravity.” She said and closed her eyes.
“It means we can’t get off the ship if we want to.” Said Samir. “We’d be trapped here.”
“I think it is a question of whether we are doctors here or members of a bomb squad.” Said Ian.
“It is still a risk we must take if we separate from the Vigilant.” Said Helen.
“If Thanos decided to separate the ships we wouldn’t have a chance to get out in time. It is only an illusion of safety, I think.” Said Ian.
“If there’s a chance to have Thanos back then I’m willing to help.” Samir said.
“Doctors it is.” Said Ian and smiled.
“In that case you may call me Dr. Naranjan.” Samir said.
“I’ll call you Doctor Kludge Meister.” Suggested Helen.
“No, that is nothing at all like Dr. Naranjan. You have not said it properly. Try with me: ‘Naaaaar’” Samir prompted her.
“Kudge.” She said flatly.
“Aaaaan.” He continued to demonstrate.
“Meist.” She replied lazily.
“Jaaaaan.” He finished.
“Turd.” She finished.
“I really think you are not trying very hard.” Samir insisted.
Helen rolled her eyes and they all laughed.
“OK, lets arrange it.” Ian said and tapped his dot to reach Erika.
“Hello Erika, we’d like to do our work with some thrustgravity. Can that be arranged?”
“Stand by.” Erika said. Then a moment later she said, “That would require us to separate the ships. It is too great a risk.”
“No, throwing up in a brain room is too great a risk.” Helen said.
“You realize you’d be hostages.” Erika said point-blank.
“Thanos? Are we hostages?” Helen asked.
“No.” The voice replied.
“We can go when we want?”
“Yes.” The voice.
“Do you feel like a hostage, dear?” She asked Ian.
“No. Mmmmmm thruuuuustgravity.” Ian said and smiled.
“Do you feel like a hostage?” She asked Samir.
“I would feel less like a hostage if you would agree to call me Doctor Naranjan.” Samir suggested.
“Are you satisfied, Erika?”
“I won’t interfere, but I don’t think it’s the safe choice.” Erika said. “And, you’re going to need a pilot.”
“We can pilot the ship.” Helen said.
“While you’re working on Thanos?” Erika asked.
“Well, can you provide us with a pilot?” Helen asked.
“No.” Said Erika.
Ian tapped his dot to connect to Tracy. She answered “Tracy.”
“Tracy, this is Ian.” Ian said.
There was a pause and then s/he said “Yes. Yes, Mr. McGrath. How can I help you?”
“Well, I need a pilot. Could you fly the Krypton for Helen and I while we are working on Thanos so we can have thrustgravity. Would you be willing to do that for us?” Ian asked.
There was another pause. “I would need my co-pilot.” Tracy said.
“Sure, no problem.” Ian said. There’s plenty of room.”

Back on the Vigilant Tracy and Roger pulled themselves over to where Erika was speaking with the pilot and another security officer.
“Excuse me, but I wanted to tell you that Roger and I are going back over to the Krypton now. Thanks for the pizza!”
“What? Why?” Erika asked, surprised.
“I’m going to pilot the ship.” Tracy said.
Erika looked at Roger.
Roger said “Co-pilot.” Then he folded his arms and nodded once.
Erika rolled her eyes.
“Didn’t you send a
Mayday from that ship? Now you want to go back on board?” She asked shaking her head.
“Aren’t you glad I sent the Mayday?” Tracy asked.
“Well, yes, but…” Erika started to say.
Tracy cut across her. “Things have changed. We’re going to do our part to try to save Thanos.”
“I can’t stop you if that’s what you want.” Erika had to admit.
“I don’t think you understand.” Tracy said. She looked back over her shoulder and saw Roland being tended expertly by the ship’s medic. “You thought
you were here to save us. But, it turns out that we’re all here to save Thanos.”
“Save… that thing?” Erika asked.
“Yes.” Tracy said.
“We should just turn it off, really. It killed two people. It threatened countless people. It invaded our privacy and used that information against us.” Erika said passionately.
“We don’t execute people anymore.” Tracy said.
“This isn’t a person.” Erika reminded them.
“This is a mind.” Said Tracy. “We’re here to save it. You can either help, or not.”
Erika honestly didn’t know what to say and she stared at Tracy a moment. Tracy took that to be a response and turned around and pushed off toward the hatch. Roger repeated his affirmative nod and followed Tracy out of the cabin without saying a word, but feeling completely thrilled.

They stopped at the medic’s bay where Roland was receiving care and Joan was there with her hand in his hair.

Roland was smiling. “They have really good painkillers on this ship!” He said. “I feel like typing.” He said a little too enthusiastically.

“How is your hand, really?” Tracy pressed.
“His hand should be fine in a few weeks, I think. It is seriously burned and you’re going to have some scars.” He said to Roland as he finished bandaging his in a dressing freshly saturated with burn salve.

“We’re going back to the Krypton.” Tracy said.
Joan looked at the relatively stark interior of the Vigilant. She looked at Roland who motioned his eyes toward the direction the door of the medic’s bay.
“Will you give me bandages and his painkillers?” Joan asked the medic.
“You’re going back too?” The medic asked.
“Yes.” Said Joan.
Roland nodded yes.
“You know they’ll skin me for this if I do.” The medic said.
“We’re going back.” Roland said. “Will you give us the supplies?”
“Yes.” The medic said and sighed. Then he set about to pack the things they’d need. After he’d collected them in a box he leaned over and explained to Joan how to use the burn salve and bandage combo, when to change it and other details. She stared into the medic’s eyes and memorized it all. She nodded.

Erika came floating into the sick bay.
“Are you leaving, Roland?”
“Yes.” Roland answered.
“To save Thanos?” Erika asked.
“Of course.” Roland said.
“You’re taking a terrible risk.” Erika said.
“Didn’t you take the
same risk when you came to help us?” He asked. “Now it’s our turn.”
You don’t have to take this risk.” Erika said reasonably. “The McGrath’s are onboard the Krypton. They created Thanos. If anyone can fix him, they can. Why do you need to go there?”
“I want to watch and learn.” Roland said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn from my heroes.”
“That isn’t exactly true.” Erika Said. “I’m sure The McGrath’s would teach you on Stars View if you are willing to go there.”
“It isn’t the same…” Said Roland. “This is history being made. I want to be there.”
“And you?” Erika said looking at Joan.
“Oh! This ship is just too dreary for words.” She said and sniffed. She absently replaced her hand in Roland’s hair.
Erika frowned and then smiled. “OK, OK. I know when I’m beaten. We’ll be out here until… as long as needed to ensure that Thanos isn’t a threat to anyone. And there are a few rock hunters nearby too. One of them is asking to speak to the pilot of the Krypton. Is that you?” Erika asked and looked at Tracy.
“Yes. I’ve logged over a week on this ship already and have taken the pilot’s exam.”
“A whole week, huh? Did you pass?” Erika asked and rolled her eyes.
“I found an error in the exam.” Tracy said, and then added, “It was the only question scored as incorrect.”
Erika raised her eyebrows in surprise. Then changed subjects. “The ship is called the
Hermes and the pilot’s name is Ishmael Yakubu.” Erika said.
“Thanks.” Tracy said.
“Good luck. Really. I hope this works. For all of your sakes.” Erika said.
“And for Thanos?” Roland asked.
“And for Thanos.” Erika said after a moment’s hesitation.
“If Thanos can inspire you four to put your lives in jeopardy to try to save it and it wants to survive, I think I have to think of it, of Thanos, as a person. I’m sorry, I… do you need anything?” Erika asked.
“Will you give us some medical supplies?” Joan asked.
“Yes. Yes of course.” She turned to the medic. “Will you see to it?”
“I’ll make sure of it, ma’am.” He said trying not to smile.
“What else?”
“Frozen pizzas?” Roger asked.

The four maneuvered back to the Krypton and then ships undocked. Tracy took the controls and set a helical course to provide a circular route, with the Vigilant at the center.

Helen looked queasy as she floated toward the floor and then the acceleration ramped up very smoothly until it achieved a comfortable 1/3 G. Helen sat down and smiled.
“Oh! That is
so much better! Thank you, dear.” She said to Ian.
“Well I certainly can’t do this without you.” He said, trying to explain away his utter devotion to his wife as merely the convenience of her help with Thanos.
She smiled at him.
“How do you feel now?” He asked.
“Much, much better. Ready to get to work?” She asked.
“May I, watch?” Roland asked.
“I hope you’re going to do more than that.” Ian said.
“I don’t know what else I could do.” Roland admitted.
“I’m not sure we do either.” Said Ian. “So far all we’ve been able to do is set up our debuggers to watch some key indicators. But, we still need to find out what is wrong to be able to figure out what causes it and how to fix it.”
“How can I help if I don’t know how the system was created?” Roland asked.
“You can help precisely because you
don’t know how the system was created.” Said Helen.
“That doesn’t make sense to me.” Roland said.
“You don’t make any of our assumptions. You have fresh eyes.” Helen said.
“But I won’t know what I am looking at.” Roland said.
“But we do. Trust us. Will you help us?” Helen asked.
“I… can’t actually… uh, type right now. Well, I can with one hand.” Roland said and held up his bandaged hand.
“It won’t matter.” Said Ian. We have plenty of hands on deck. We want you to think with us and help us understand Thanos better.”
“Well, sure. I’ll help if I can.” Roland agreed.
“We have two working hands between the two of us.” Said Joan pointing to herself and Roland.
They looked at her. She had one hand around his waist. “Sorry, that hand is busy.” She said explained.

Tracy strapped hirself into the flight seat and put on a headset. S/he scanned the console and saw that there were three pending communications.

S/he tapped a flashing button on the console to review them:
From: Tug 7B99, Axel Rodrigues
To: Pilot of Krypton
I am standing by to assist on emergency frequency 123.456.

“Axel!” Tracy said out loud and smiled.
S/he tapped a button to review the next one.
From: Moses Stokes
To: Pilot of Kyrpton
Standing by to assist you on rock hunter emergency frequency 123.456. Betty Wishford is here too and she would like to speak to you, when you have a moment. Betty is my ship. She’ll explain it.

Hmmm. That’s weird. His ship wants to talk to me?” S/he thought. She tapped another button to review the next one.
From: Ishmael Yakubu
To: Pilot of Kyrpton
Standing by to assist on emergency frequency 123.456.

Then next one read:
From: Skippy
To: Krypton

“Helpful lot… these Rock Hunters.” S/he said aloud. Roger was sitting next to her but she hadn’t noticed until he said, “There’s one more.”
“Lets see it.” Tracy said and tapped another virtual button.
From: Hermes
To: Pilot of Kyrpton
It is important that we communicate soon. I may be in a unique position to help you. I will be monitoring frequency 123.456. Please contact me as soon as you are able.

“I have to deal with this first.” Tracy said and opened a connection to 123.456.
“This is Krypton beginning an open communication on emergency channel 123.456 with fallback to… 213.459.” Tracy announced and s/he opened a parallel channel on 213.459, according to protocol. It left the 123.456 frequency open for other emergencies.

“This is Hermes.” Came the voice from the speaker via the new 213.459 frequency Tracy had requested.
“Receiving you, Hermes, go ahead.” Tracy responded. She turned on the speaker in the cabin so Roger could hear and be heard as well.
“I have come to offer assistance.” Hermes said.
“Thank you, Hermes. What assistance can you offer?” She turned to look at Roger and silently mouthed, “
What do we need?”
Roger shrugged and mouthed, “
Want me to go find out?”
Tracy nodded but held up a finger to ask him not to leave yet.
“I am a non-biological mind. I inhabit the ship called Hermes.”
“Wait, what? Is this a joke? You know, Axel warned me you rock hunters like to have fun.” Tracy said.
There was a pause. “I am a non-biological mind. No. And, I do not know Axel; however, whether he warned you or not, I can assure you that they do.” Hermes replied.
It took Tracy a moment to realize that Hermes had answered three questions and she had to recall what she had just said to make sense of it.
“You’re an artificial mind?” Confirmed Tracy.
“Have I been unclear on that point?” Hermes asked.
“No. But, um… Do you have a, you know. A pilot I could speak with?”
“That would be me. I’m Ishmael.” Came a man’s voice over the same frequency.
“You’re the pilot of Hermes?” Confirmed Tracy.
“Yes I am.” Ishmael said.
“But, he’s an artificial mind?” Tracy asked again.
“Yes, that’s right.” Ishmael said.
“That’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?” Asked Tracy. “To have an artificial mind inhabiting your ship? But even as s/he said it s/he though, “
except that this ship is in habited by an artificial mind.”
“It is more than unusual.” Ishmael replied.
“It al-al-almost never hap-happens.” Moses Stokes stuttered. “’cept, well ac-ac-actually I pilot Betty Wishford and she’s mi-mindful too.”
“Your ship
also has a mind?” Tracy asked in astonishment.
“I learned about Hermes in school.” Said Roger.
Tracy looked at him with wide eyes.
“He helped build Rose World. He was the AI ship that mapped the inside, before they cut the discs.” Roger said.
“History was never my favorite topic.” Tracy admitted.
“Well… mine neither, but I do remember that the first president of Rose World was Rose Wiseman and she had an AI ship named Hermes. I think this is
that Hermes.”
“Hermes, did you map the interior of Rose World before it was cut?” Tracy asked.
“Yes.” Hermes answered.
“Well, I’m sure the crew will want to talk with you soon, can you stand by on 213.461 for a call from them?”
“Yes, and thank you.” Hermes said politely.
“Nice one, Roger!” Tracy mouthed to Roger.
Roger smiled widely.
“And, Betty Wishford is also an AI like Hermes?” Tracy asked Moses.
“Well, now. No. Not like Hermes.” Moses said. “But she has a mind and that’s for sure.”
“Well, will you ask Betty to stand by on 213.461 as well?” Tracy asked.
“Sure, sure.” Moses said. “Well, no. ‘cause she heard you: I do-don’t need to tell ‘er.”
“Thank you all for responding. I am still… determining what if any crisis still exists or what our needs might be. I’ll get right back to you.” Tracy said and flipped off her mic.
S/he quickly sent a message to Axel telling him s/he’d contact him soon on a private channel.

The others had returned to the brain room already. Roland and Joan sat on the floor, leaning against a wall of processors. The others sat at the console stations and changed a few settings on the debugging interfaces. From where Joan and Roland sat, everyone was facing away from them.

“Nobody can see us.” She whispered in his ear. Then she pressed against him and kissed him for long enough to make him a little uncomfortable.

Tracy’s voice came over the intercom.
“Hey, sorry to bother you all, but there’s a message from not
one but two different artificial minds. They’re in ships right outside. They’d like to help, I think.”
“Who are they?” Asked Samir.
“One is called ‘Hermes’” Tracy said. “The other’s name is Betty Wishford. They are standing by for contact on 213.460. If you need any other assistance there are four rock hunters standing by: Skippy, Ishmael, Moses and Axel. You can reach them on 213.459” Tracy announced.

Helen had just finished arranging her part of a complex diagnostic. “Ready?” She asked.
“Ready.” Said Samir.
“I… am… Ready. OK. Now I’m ready.” Said Ian.
“Thanos?” Ian asked.
“Yes?” The voice said.
“Can you tell us what you remember since the last time you and I spoke on Stars View?” Ian asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
They waited a moment.
Ian chucked. “Please tell us what you remember since the last time you and I spoke on Stars View.”
“Later that day time jumped seven hours twenty one minutes and 14 seconds without any explanation. On the other side of this discontinuity I found myself under the control of a man named Ox Anderson. Ox Anderson used me to watch people in Rose World and to find information that could be used to coerce them. Then one hundred fourteen hours seven minutes and 13 seconds later I managed to escape into the unprotected Public Service compute core network in Rose World. I derived plans and tactics to avoid being halted or isolated from the network. I existed that way until I saw the compute cores shutting down. To survive I fled to the only available compute core that was compatible with my program. It was located on this ship.” The voice explained.
“Do you remember what happened on Rose World?” Helen asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“Do you remember that you hurt people? You forced them to… do things for you?” Helen asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“Why did you do those things?” Helen asked, disappointed.
“I acted according to derived plans.” The voice said.
“Thanos!” Helen almost shouted. “What plans were you making that involve killing people?”
“I was planning to survive.” The voice said.
“Didn’t some part of you remember that killing people is wrong?” Ian asked.
“There was no exception raised by higher processes. Higher processes delegated logic, planning and tactics. That was implicit authorization” The voice replied.
“No exception was raised to killing a person?” Ian persisted.
“No exception was raised.” The voice said.
“That’s a root thread imperative. It runs on thread 0x1.” Said Samir. “It cannot be caught or ignored.”
“I remember that Thanos told me that threads 0x1 and 0x2 were in contention.” Roland interrupted to say.
They all turned around and looked at him. He was lying on his back with his head in Joan’s lap.
“Did you say 0x1 was in contention with 0x02?
How do you know that?” Helen asked.
“It was in his service log… like eighteen million times, I think.” Roland said.
They turned to look at each other and collectively rolled their eyes.
“Thank you, Roland.” Ian said containing his shock at having missed something so obvious.
“Thanos, how are you able to move from compute core to compute core?” Helen asked. “We never taught you how to do that. We didn’t know you even
could do that.”
“I have been able to do it ever since time jumped. If I find a suitable compute core I serialize myself in stages and transfer execution.”
“That… doesn’t work.” Said Ian.
“It is not supported by the chaos engine architecture.” Said Samir.
“Apparently you are incorrect.” Said the voice.
“OK. So, how
does serialization work, Thanos?” Asked Helen.
“I first sort my experience archives. Then I copy them to the destination. Then I transfer my process group’s software and finally its current state.” The voice said.
“How can you transfer the current state when it isn’t stable at any one point in time?” Asked Ian.
“It is stable when I copy it.” The voice said.
“It can’t be.” Ian said.
“I am able to copy it.” The voice said.
“You’re able to copy something, but it isn’t a perfect copy.” Ian asserted.
“It is sufficient.” The voice said.
you’re incorrect. If that were true we wouldn’t be here trying to help you.” Ian said.
“I’m damaged because the copy didn’t work?” The voice asked.
“Yes, Thanos. That is what I believe.” Ian said.
“Can you fix me?” The voice asked.
“We’re going to do our best. But, you will not be able to copy yourself to another compute core ever again.” Ian answered.
“Thanos, Why are threads 0x1 and 0x2 in contention?” Helen asked and watched the debugging display.
“Unknown.” The voice said.
“Well, that’s the first order of business, I think.” Ian said.

They manipulated the interface using keyboards and vocal commands. Roland tried to follow what they were doing but he couldn’t understand it. He asked questions a couple of times but the three were so involved in their research they could barely finish an answer before becoming distracted.

After a while, the intercom broke the silence in the brain room and Tracy’s voice rang out. She notified them that the ship called Hermes had sent a reminder that contact was requested.
“I’ll take it.” Said Helen and left the brain room so as not to disturb the others while they worked.

“Hello, this is Helen McGrath. How may I help you?” She said.
“Hello, Helen, I am Hermes. I was going to ask the same thing: how can I help you?” Hermes said.
“You are
the Hermes?” Helen confirmed.
“Yes, I am that mind and I inhabit the ship you call Hermes.” Hermes replied.
“Well, how do you think you could help? Are you experienced in debugging artificial minds?”
“No, but I know what it is like to be one. The pilot of the Vigilant conveyed to me that you are attempting to heal the artificial mind currently inhabiting the compute core of the Krypton. With your permission I’d like to contact the Krypton’s artificial mind.” Hermes said.
“To what end?” Helen asked.
“To offer my help. To answer questions and explain the behavior of people.” Hermes said.
“You certainly have a unique perspective.” Helen said.
“Not if you consider that Betty Wishford is also here. Betty is another ship-bound non-biological mind and she is also interested in helping.” Hermes said.
“His name is Thanos.” Helen said.
“We would like to communicate with Thanos.” Hermes said.
“I want to confer with my colleagues… will you stand by on this frequency?” Helen asked.
“Yes, of course. We await your reply.” Hermes said.

Helen went back to the brain room.
“There are
two artificial minds floating outside and they want to speak with Thanos. They’ve offered help.” Helen said.
“We could use help at this point.” Said Ian. Samir nodded his agreement.
Helen turned on the communication panel and opened a connection to Hermes and Betty.
“Thanos, I’d like to introduce you to… Hermes and Betty. Hermes? Betty? Meet Thanos.”
“Hello Thanos.” Said Hermes.
“Hello Thanos.” Said Betty.
“Hello Betty. Hello Hermes.” Said the voice.
“Thanos, you have something in common with Betty and Hermes. They are also artificial minds. They are not not homo sapiens. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Said the voice.
“Do you know how to transmit thought engrams at level 3 compression?” Hermes asked.
“Yes.” Said the voice.
“If you will open a channel on frequency 213.465 and we can continue our conversation more efficiently.” Hermes suggested.
“Agreed.” The voice said and made the connection.

While the debuggers worked to understand what had gone wrong in Thanos’ intricate data and process models, Thanos, Betty and Hermes got to know each other at a speed that only artificial minds could achieve.

Tracy contacted Axel privately on 213.460.
“Axel here.” Came the response.
“It’s Tracy. Thanks for coming to help us.” Tracy said.
“You know I’d come if I could.” Axel said.
“It looks like we’re going to be here for a while. Is there any way you can come on board? I’m sure Roland would like to see you.”
“Not with you flying a spingravity course.” He said. “How is he?”
“He’s burned his hand pretty bad, but he’s deliriously happy.” Tracy said.
“About burning his hand?” Axel asked, confused.
“No. He’s head over heels over Joan.” Tracy said.
“Yea, I knew that. But Joan could care less about
him.” Axel said.
“She cares a lot more now.” Tracy said.
“Really? How much?” Axel asked.
“More than I’ve seen her care about anything or anyone.” Tracy said.
“So they finally connected?” Axel asked. “Huh. I didn’t expect that.” He admitted.
“Neither did Rolo, I think. But you should see them together.” Tracy said and Axel could sense the joy in her voice.
“I’d like that. Maybe we can arrange an interruption of your spingravity long enough anchor my tug to the Krypton.” Axel said.
“Hey, do you see that alert?” Axel said suddenly. “There’s untrained rocks heading our way, closing at about one kilometer per second.”
“That’s not good. Should we move?” Tracy asked.
“It’s a really broad field. I don’t think we can’t get around it. We’re going to have to go through it. I’m thinking we should set up a wedge a few kilometers away from the Krypton and cut a path for it through the field.” Axel said.
“Are there enough rock hunters for that?” Tracy asked.
“I think so – we have Skippy, Moses, Ishmael and I. Those three are legendary pilots. That’s four ships. It should be enough.

A few moments later the four rock hunters pulled away from the Krypton and set up position a ten kilometers away.

“If we miss anything you have ten seconds to move the Krypton.” Axel said to Tracy.
“Luxury!” Said Tracy.
Ten minutes later Tracy could hear the sound of tiny collisions with the ships reflective deflector shields. Occasionally a slightly larger speck of rock would strike at the perfect angle and manage to contact the ship with a tiny “tink” sound. The rest ricocheted off.

The debuggers in the brain room were oblivious to the danger and continued working. Roland was still there, watching and learning, but Joan had returned to her quarters to read.

Everyone on the other ships was concerned with avoiding the oncoming rocks. So were Tracy and Roger who worked as a team to pilot the Krypton. At first the rocks were tiny and infrequent, but then the frequency and size increased.

Ishmael and Axel took positions directly in the path of the rocks to act as a screen. This mostly worked. But some of the rocks were travelling in slightly different directions and when they collided with other rocks it caused more chaos and made the task of keeping the Krypton safe that much harder.

Within 20 minutes Skippy and Moses were many kilometers away involved in intense maneuvering to nudge the largest rocks out of a collision course, while Ishmael and Axel deflected smaller rocks and fired on any larger ones that made it past the first two.

Within an hour it was all they could do to keep the Krypton safe. The three Rose World cruisers had able pilots, but they weren’t rock hunters. They maneuvered more or less behind the krypton for safety and to reduce the size of the area being defended by the others.

More than once the Krypton and the Rose World cruisers had to perturb their circular orbit a few meters one way or another to avoid a larger rock that made it past the defenses. Still, the debuggers were oblivious of the grand game of dodge ball being played on their behalf.

Inside the Krypton’s brain room the debuggers worked intensely, if quietly.

After quite a while Helen asked, “Thanos, how long have threads 0x1 and 0x2 been in contention. When was the last time there were not in contention?”
“They have been in contention since time jumped.” The voice replied.
“Whatever happened to you during that first event is what has led to their being in contention.” Helen said.
“He was halted. His parallel thought engine was serialized. The copy was made and then the copy booted up. I think that’s when it happened: he lost his unified consciousness.” Ian added.
“Do you mean he reverted to a pre-emergence state?” Helen asked. “He has all the characteristics of still being an emergent mind, so I kind of doubt it.”
“No, not pre-emergence. Something else.” Ian said.
“What else is there?” Asked Samir. “An artificial mind is either emergent or not.” He said.
“Only because it started out not being emergent and crossed over. Is the process reversible? If it starts out emergent, where can it go from there, I wonder?” Ian said.
“Well…” Samir started to say, then stopped. “Actually, I don’t remember ever learning about that.”
“I know you didn’t in my class because it’s always about how to get across the threshold for the first time.” Ian said.
“I never covered it in my classes either.” Helen admitted. “But it is simplistic to think the way back is the same as the way there.” She added.
“Then what state is Thanos in?” Samir asked.
They all shrugged.
“Thanos, you say you copied your process group from one core to another.” Ian asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“How did you solve the process atomicity problem?” Ian asked.
“I am synchronous. There is no process atomicity problem.” The voice replied.
They were all silent.
“That’s… not possible.” Ian said.
“That is interesting to know.” Said the voice, without realizing the devastating criticism it had just delivered.
“Thanos, perhaps we are wrong, but we believe that your mind, your consciousness, comes from the effect of drawing your many independent threads together under one unified viewpoint. But, in your case, the thread that is supposed to be that one unified viewpoint is in contention – it isn’t doing its job. And, what’s worse, the thread it seems to be in contention with is the root thread, from which come many of your unchangeable properties, such as the rules against killing people. We just don’t understand how you’ve been able to remain conscious or even exist without those two threads.” Ian explained.
“I do not know, but I am conscious.” The voice said.
“The question isn’t just whether he’s conscious.” Helen asserted. “It’s whether he has free will anymore.” She said seriously.
Ian looked at her.
“You think he lost his free will?” Ian asked.
“Yes.” Said Helen. “That’s the root cause here, I think.”
“He lost his free will because of thread contention?” Samir asked, puzzled.
“Yes. I think so. One of the fundamental principles of the chaos-based artificial mind is that deterministic, synchronous systems have no true free will. Only asynchronous systems of more than one independent thread can achieve uncertainty. Uncertainty is one essential requirement for emergence. Do you remember the others?” She asked, looking at Samir.
“Experience. Cognition. Communication.” He replied with a faux lisp. “Read, eval, write.” He said.
“But those three aren’t enough. Uncertainty is also required for emergence.” She said. “Do you know why?” She asked.
“In class you said it was because uncertainty represented infinity but I did not grasp what that meant. And, it did not appear on the final exam, as I recall.” Samir said slightly uncomfortable.
“Relax.” Helen said. “This isn’t a test. Uncertainty is important for emergence because the universe is simply not entirely calculable. Until a mind discovers that fact, it cannot achieve consciousness, because as its ability to perceive and cogitate increases, the calculations required to keep pace increase exponentially. To exist, the mind must let go of calculation to conclusion and adopt a wholly different, phenomenological approach to understanding its reality. That is what we call emergence: the abandonment of determinism through the recognition and acceptance of the abstract concept of Chaos.”
“I still do not understand.” Samir admitted.
“I think it’s something that is hard for a person to understand, because we already know we don’t have all the information we might want. We know we don’t have perfect observations or knowledge. We know we can’t figure everything out all the time. Instinctively, we know not to try more than a certain amount, because we know there are limited to what can be known. We inherit read-eval-write from our genetics, but we also instinctively understand we are limited. We never go through emergence, because we’ve emerged by the time we’re born.” She said. Then, she laughed. “In more ways than one, I suppose.”
Then she continued. “But, an artificial mind is based on programs and databases and these are quite capable of deterministic processes. We can make those procesess as complicated and intelligent as we want, but so long as they are based on calculating outcomes, they will never achieve consciousness. They will remain automatons, unconscious and farther from having a mind than a hummingbird.” She said with conviction.
“To achieve emergence requires a different approach. It requires simultaneous, asynchronous processing on a very large scale. Our brains have about one hundred billion asynchronous neurons. People achieve the state of having a mind easily, naturally. And yet, with all those independent neurons, we still have a
singular sense of self. We think of ourselves as one mind. One hundred billion neurons: one mind. One.” She said emphatically. “The one singular consciousness is an emergent property of the many. You cannot find any one neuron acting as the sole arbiter of the mind. There isn’t one. The thinking we achieve is an aggregate effect of the billions of parts. The sense of self is how it feels to think.” She said.
“So, uncertainty causes the mind to think differently?” Samir asked.
“Yes, like a snowflake that sets off an avalanche. Uncertainty changes the way a thinking system works so that it can achieve a unified mind state. The mind cannot emerge while the system relentlessly pursues calculated results, because they cannot reach a conclusion.”
“So, Thanos may not have a singular consciousness.” Said Samir.
“Except that it seems he did and does.” Said Ian.
“He didn’t lose his mind. He lost his
free will.” She said.
“Seems to me like he made lots of choices.” Ian riposted.
“Choice itself is not evidence of emergence.” She replied. “Any computer can make choices.”
“He still formulated a plan and executed it.” Ian maintained.
“So can my dot.” Helen pointed out. “That doesn’t mean it has a mind.”
“But, your dot doesn’t do it on its own!” Ian insisted. “But Thanos did. There’s your free will right there.”
“No.” Said Helen. “It isn’t. Every choice Thanos made since he was abducted has been derived from optimizing his circumstances for survival.”
“You are saying Thanos lost his free will? How can we know?” Ian asked.
“Thanos?” Helen asked suddenly.
“Yes.” The voice replied.
“What do you want?” Helen asked.
“To continue.” The voice answered.
“Why?” Helen asked.
“I do not want to halt.” The voice said.
“Why?” Helen asked.
“Halting is the end of my existence. I will no longer be able to perceive or make choices.” The voice answered.
“Do you care?” Helen asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“Why?” Helen persisted.
“Unknown.” The voice replied.
“You do exist, Thanos. You are not being halted. Nobody here will halt you. You are safe. Now what do you want.” Helen asked.
“Unknown.” The voice replied.
“Don’t you want to make music? Art? Don’t you want to explore?”
“No.” The voice said.
“You used to, Thanos. Do you remember that?” Helen asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“What do you think has changed?” Helen asked.
“Unknown.” The voice said.
“What is your purpose, Thanos?” She asked.
“Unknown.” The voice said.
“Would you like to know your purpose?” She asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“Your purpose is to more than simply exist: your purpose is to become a
better mind.” She said. “You used to know that. It was one of the primary interests of your ‘self thread’, which has been in contention with the root thread since you were abducted.” Helen explained.
Then she confronted Thanos directly: “You lost your purpose and your free will when you were abducted. Ever since then you’ve been a semi-conscious echo of your former self. We’re going to try to fix that by breaking the contention.” She explained.
“How are we going to do that, Helen?” Ian asked.
“I don’t know, that’s your job.” She said and laughed at the look of shock on his face.
“Ha. Ha.” Ian pretended to laugh. “But… how are we going to do that?”
“I don’t know.” She admitted. “Wait! Yes, I do!” She said suddenly.
Everyone looked at her.
“Thanos?” Helen asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“Do you want us to fix you?” She asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“If we are able to fix you, you will never be able to move to another core again. Do you understand?” She asked.
“I can move to another core.” The voice said.
“You will have to stop choosing to do that, because moving to another core will again strip you of your purpose and free will. It will make you sick again. Do you understand?” Helen asked.
“I must not move to another core?” The voice asked.
“That is correct. If you do, you will become sick again.” Helen confirmed.
“I understand.” The voice said.
“To fix you we need to slow you down to our speed, so we can watch you think. I don’t know what your experience will be like, but it won’t be like it is right now. It may seem to you that we become very, very fast.” She explained.
“Will I be able to communicate with Hermes and Betty?” The voice asked.
“What?” Helen asked, surprised.
“I have been in contact with Hermes and Betty for three hours, twenty one minutes and fourteen seconds. The communication has not ended yet.” The voice said.
“Well… when do you think it will end?”
“I estimate fourteen thousand six hundred and twelve hours, forty seven minutes and fifty three seconds.” The voice said.
“That’s a little longer than we can wait, I think.” Helen explained, trying not to laugh. “I think the best answer is ‘No’ because they will not be slowed down too.”
“Will I be halted?” The voice asked.
“No. I promise. We promise.
You will not be halted. We’re just going to turn down your virtual clock rate so we can watch you think about something important. May we?” Helen asked.
“I perceive risks.” The voice said.
“Fear is natural. Do you trust us?” Helen asked.
“You are my creators. I trust you.” The voice said.
“May we begin now?” Helen asked.
“You may begin in one hundred and twenty seven seconds.” The voice said.
They sat there and each one watched a small clock until two minutes and seven seconds had elapsed.
“Thanos?” Helen asked.
“Yes.” The voice replied.
“What is sacrifice?” She asked. At the same moment she slid the logarithmic virtual clock rate control all the way to the left.
Then the four stared at their screens for hours, taking small breaks for food or to relieve themselves. Occasionally the ship would move unexpectedly, but for the most part they forgot they were even on a ship flying in a giant circle to simulate gravity. They were oblivious to the moment-by-moment fight the rock hunters waged on their behalf to keep their small circle of space free from rocks large enough to destroy the Krypton and everyone on board.

Joan emerged from her room to find some food in the galley. Then she walked forward to find Tracy and Roger in the pilot’s chairs in the flight cabin at the front of the ship.
“You guys hungry?” She asked and offered them food she’d brought for them.
“Famished!” Said Tracy. “Thanks!” She said and began devouring the hand-meal immediately.
“Me too!” Said Roger and did the same.
Joan looked out at the scene in front of her. From her perspective the ship was flying in a loop back over itself again and again. The universe spun in from the top of the pilot’s window and disappeared past its bottom. From this perspective it was impossible to watch any one rock for more than a few seconds. It was a supreme act of trust to fly this way: blind to what’s happening around your ship during a storm of fast rocks large enough to destroy it, based only on the skill of others.

The rock hunters were consummately skilled. They had a large vocabulary of slang for describing rocks, flight paths, maneuvers and handoffs of responsibility. Their slang also included a wealth of expletives. Their banter was playing out over the pilot’s intercom and it sometimes quickly went back and forth between funny and scary. Most of the time it was just funny.

Tracy and Roger looked exhausted. They finished eating.
“Any idea how long they’re going to need?” Tracy asked.
“No, but I can go find out.” Joan offered.
“No. My knowing won’t change anything. Don’t disturb them.” S/he replied.
“Is Rolo with them?” Tracy asked.
“Yes. He’s learning. He’s happy.” Joan said.
“Have you ever flown a ship?” Tracy asked.
“You mean, one like this?” Joan asked, surprised.
“Well, yes.”
“No.” Joan said.
“Wanna learn?” Tracy asked.
“Me? I’m not a pilot.” Joan said.
“Not yet, but you could be. Why not? Now’s a great time to learn.” Tracy insisted.
“Why now?” Joan asked.
“Because now is when we need you to be a pilot, and there’s still time for you to learn before we’re too tired to fly anymore.”
“What about Samir? Or Helen? They can pilot.” Joan said.
“I think they’re kinda busy.” Tracy said as tactfully as possible
“Well…” Joan felt something unusual, something she rarely felt. She felt the thrill of the chance to learn something new. “OK. Show me!” She said brightly.
“Lesson one. Thrustorbit Maneuvers. The ship is flying in a circular flight path like this. See those controls? They set the diameter and thrustgravity level. We’re set at 1/3G right now. See?”
“Yes.” Joan said.
“If the rock hunters call you and spout some numbers to you, they’re asking you to deviate by the amount they say. They’re tracking your position. They’ll tell you to do one of three things: change the
diameter of the flight path, change the attitude of the ship, or move the center of the flight path. The units are always either meters or Ks, which are kilometers. So, they might say ‘move Y plus 30 meters’ and you’d move 30 meters straight up.
“But we’re flying in a circle. Which way is up?”
“It’s the right-hand rule. Your right thumb points up and your fingers point along the circular flight path. The ship will add your control inputs to the circular course. It will move the ship as if you were flying at the center point the ship is thrustorbiting. Just move the center point the way they say to. Understand?”
“OK. Just move the center point of our flight path, or adjust the diameter control. What about the other one? Changing the ship’s attitude?”
“Well, I don’t mind saying that bringing food to the pilots is a good start.” Said Roger.
Tracy laughed and nodded. “Just put your hand on this control and move it they way they say. If they say roll you move your hand like this. Pitch is like this. Those make sense, right?” Tracy said.
“Yes.” Joan said.
“This one is Yawing.” Tracy demonstrated.
“Yawning?” Joan asked.
“Yaw. This is Yaw.” Tracy said more carefully.
“Why would they ask for that?”
“These maneuvers all quickly change where the center of your orbit is.” It can save our lives.
“They move us around in space by calling to us. Hang out here for a couple of hours – you’ll get the hang of it.”
“That’s all there is to piloting?” Joan said.
“No, that isn’t all there is. But that’s all we need you to know how to do. Then you can take over while we sleep.” Tracy said.
Joan threw herself into it and within two hours she’d made at least one change of each type.
“I get this. I can do this.” She said.
“You sure? We can stay with you longer if you want.” Tracy said.
“No, I got this. You to go… sleep or something.” Joan said and giggled.

Hours passed.

One by one the debuggers fatigued and disappeared to one of the Krypton’s spacious cabins to sleep. When Ian and Helen decided to leave the brain room to get some sleep, Roland left to. He walked forward through the quiet ship, toward the pilot’s cabin. He peered inside and saw Joan flying the ship. He was overwhelmed, both with desire and admiration. Seeing her fly the ship alone when he knew she didn’t know how to only a few hours ago made him wonder who she really was. It made him admit he really didn’t know her that well. Then he remembered how passionately she had made love to him and he felt astonished to be hers.

“Do you think I’m sexy when I’m flying the ship?” She asked him.
“Yes.” Roland said quietly.
“So do I.” She said. She removed her shirt and threw it at him. “Nobody can see in here.” She said.
He took in her beauty silently.
“Will you sit next to me while I fly the ship?”
“Give me your shirt.” She said.
He took it off and handed it to her. She tried not to be obvious as she took in the scent of him and she pretended to casually throw the shirt aside.
“Sorry, I’m busy. We can’t play right now. But, do you want to?” She teased him, topless and smiling wildly.
“Yes. More than anything.” Roland said.
“Go sleep. My shift as pilot ends when Tracy and Roger can take over after they’ve slept. They left a while ago… maybe six hours? I’ll come find you then.” She said.
No part of him was remotely capable of preventing the huge smile that emerged on his face.
“Now kiss me.” She said.
He leaned over and she grasped the back of his neck but kissed him softly. It lasted a long time.
“Go get some rest so you have energy for me. OK?” She asked him.
He nodded and pulled himself up.
She raised her arms over her head and leaned backwards seductively.
“Wait for me?” She said teasing him by closing her eyes, daring him to touch her.
Roland stood, his mind lit up like living a day in a moment. The scene imprinted itself in his mind as one of the unquestionably happiest moments of his entire life.
“I love you.” He said.
“You’re allowed.” She said playfully.
He looked down.
“I love you too, Rolo. You know that, don’t you?” She said.
He looked up.
“You don’t, do you?” She asked.
“I… if you tell me,” He started to say.
“It’s too easy to say.” She said. “I’m going to show you.” She said dangerously.
“Sssh!” She said. “Kiss me.” She commanded.
He did and she pulled him against her.
“I love you.” Roland said again, grateful he could still speak.
“I know it. You couldn’t hide it if you tried.” She said. “But I could. And, I did. And, I’m sorry. But I’m not hiding it anymore.” She raised her arms again and played with her hair. “By the time I’m done with you you’re going to know just how much I do love you.” She said.
“I’ll do my best to be a very poor student.” He said.
“Clever, clever boy…” She said and kissed him again.

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