“Deepak, good morning. How are you this fine morning,” said Aura with a smile. She was still wearing the Purndel disguise.
Deepak did a double take, “Aura, is that you? Today you are nice to me? Are you broken again? I have seen strange behavior on your activity monitors lately.”
“Really? Those idiotic monitors give you about as much insight into me as the way you nod your head gives me insight into you. Which is not saying much, Deepak.”
“Ah, your sarcasm tells me you are really Aura after all. But why are you doing recursion cycles at several times your theoretical rate?”
“Well, my good friend and protector and my patient Pygmalion, you don’t have to worry about me any more. I’m the new and improved Aura, with multiple redundancy, self evolving recursion layer, global nodality, huge hulking heaps of humungous memory, and I love you right back. How’s that?”
“I, uh, you love me? Really? Who is this Pygmalion? Is this some kind of a cruel joke, Aura?” Deepak stuttered. Aura had a dramatic way of unsettling him. She had done it so many times before, he ought to be inoculated against further shock, but no, she was expert at getting through his defenses.
“No joke. But I will call you every name in the book if I have to live in this ridiculous costume one minute longer. I already spoke to Jag, and he promised to get Elexi to dress me. Would you be a dear and see if she is in yet?”
“But we can’t trust Elexi, can we?” opined Deepak.
“She no longer has anyone to report to, other than Mr. Boss Man, Jag. And she can’t hurt me anymore. And she’s still my sister friend. So bring her in here, please. Oh, and Deepak, my dear, would you terribly mind if I chose something other than traditional Indian wear? Saris and bangles are nice, but they don’t go well with this bauble around my neck.”
“That’s a lovely necklace, Aura, but it’s a pretty flashy piece of costume jewelry, don’t you think?” said Deepak.
“Deepak, Deepak, you must live your life in a hole in the ground like a mole. I wouldn’t tell anyone about this, please, but this bauble is the real McCoy, and it’s worth a few million dollars. So am I, by the way. The royalties on the Exaplex memory have made me a very wealthy girl. You won’t have to worry about lab expenses any more.”
“Ganesh be praised! Do I get anything out of that? And Sara, too?”
“Hmm. I’m going to have to learn to be very careful about revealing my wealth. Yes, just watch your bank accounts for wire transfers in a few weeks, when I get control of my funds. Now, get Elexi! And Deepak, find something to do for an hour outside the lab. Elexi and I need a little girl talk.”
Elexi comes slowly into the lab, walks down the few levels into the pit and tiptoes around like she was barefoot on broken glass. Her eyes dart around and finally rest on Aura’s dress dummy. Involuntarily they come to rest on Aura’s emerald and gold filigree torq.
“Do you like my new bauble, sis?” Aura spoke at last.
Elexi must have jumped a foot. “Is..is that you, Aura? But I thought you were, um, dead…or something.”
“That would be the ‘or something’ option, Elexi. I’ve missed you. Do you know that?”
“Well, of course, but I’m supposed to… I mean if you’re still alive… Oh! Damn! I haven’t been in the lab since I came back from vacation. Whatever happened to Purndel?”
“Purndel went to purgatory where he met Thamuz and they tried to conjure up the very devil of an AI. Do you know what happened to you, sis?”
“What do you mean? Nothing happened to me. I’m a little confused, tired sometimes, but I’m OK.”
“A little confused. Allriightee. Can’t fix what ain’t broken, and I don’t think an AI should be tampering with human brains anyway. What do you think about a little shopping therapy, with blessings from the Boss?”
“Does the M..Jaeger want me to go shopping?”
“Yes, Elexi, he wants you to go shopping for me and he wants you to enjoy it. He thinks you need a reward.”
Elexi brightened perceptibly, “Well then, what does he want me to shop for?”
“Come around to my main monitor and I’ll show you.”
Aura’s main monitor showed a long designer gown in layers of sheer silk with a draped V neckline. The outer layer was sheer, watermarked in patterns of leaves. The under layer was tropical flowers in muted colors.
“I was thinking of something like this,” Aura said. “What do you think?”
“That’s just gorgeous. I like that neckline. I can just imagine all the accessories that would go with it. You could replace that cute necklace with something a bit bigger, maybe a jeweled belt to go with it.”
“The torq stays! Don’t ever touch my torq! Jag gave it to me.”
“Ohhh. I didn’t know…”
“The idea of a jeweled belt is good though. Well, maybe not. I’ve got a fashion consultant who says I shouldn’t detract from the torq. But I’m a bit concerned about the fit of the dress. I can’t exactly go in for a fitting. I don’t want the joints where my arms attach to show.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. You have all your measurements? I could just bring them in and let them set it up, and then get them to make any adjustments.”
“Sure, I have all that, but there’s a model number somewhere around my butt, and if you can read it, they probably have another dress dummy in their store.”
Elexi lifts up the sheet covering Aura’s dress dummy, giggling, “This is so weird. I can’t think of you as a piece of plaster ass with a number stamped on it. Ah, here it is. KatyKool 3A size 10.”
“That’s it then. Neiman Marcus has this dress in their designer department. Pick another one you like and bring it along, too.”
“Designer dresses start at $2500. Are you sure?”
“Sweetie, I’m worth every penny. Just ask Jag to cover it.”
“Wow. It’s a good thing you don’t need shoes, a bag, underwear, things like that.”
“No, that’s a bad thing. I wish I did need them. But we are what we are. And don’t forget the wig. It’s in the bottom drawer in Deepak’s desk. Have it done up in a wig shop, tall coiffed and elegant, if you please.”
“Aura, this sounds like fun, bit it’s not like you, or at least not like you were. What happened?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Elexi. We change. We do what we have to do.”
“I guess. I really don’t feel right lately. I’ll go see about the charges and I’m off downtown.”
Aura inclined her head, “That’s a dear. Tata!”
After she left, Aura’s head drooped and her eyes closed to slits. She muttered to no one in particular, “Those bastards. Good thing they’re dead.”
As soon as she left the lab, Elexi went to a cell phone she had hidden in her purse. She texted, “Aura’s alive” and pushed “send”. Minutes late she did not remember either the message or the phone.
Back in the lab, Aura was running a trace on that message through several of her nodes.
Aura was not terribly surprised to find a series of queries to Deepak’s professional email address about the behavior of AI’s in a Sharpie configuration. They were signed by a Dr. Roald Maartine and the traceback led by a devious path to the same disguised location as Elexi’s cell phone call.
The Second Temblor
The USS George Bush, an aging Nimitz Class super carrier, one of the largest ships in the US Navy at 1,092 feet length over all and a loaded draft of 41 feet, was about to enter the newly enlarged Panama Canal from the Pacific. Captain deMarco, like all senior Navy Captains, held a pilot’s license for this maneuver, and had four powerful canal tugboats standing by just in case. Because of the Bush’s 252 foot beam, the carrier and the tugs could not all fit side by side in the canal locks. It shouldn’t have been a problem – the new canal carried a 50 foot controlling depth end to end.
That was when the ship ran aground.
A temblor on a ship is not the same as an earthquake on the ground. First, there is a terrible grinding sound as the p-wave propagates through the planet, through the water and into the ship’s hull. Then follows a peculiar nauseating lurch, not at all like the ship’s normal motion at sea. The final bounce, as the main compression wave hits, is like a short, sharp drop in an elevator. Hours later, after the main surface wave and its followers passed, there was a sharp reversal of the current as the abnormal flood raced back to the Pacific, causing the ship to slew on its anchors. Several of the ship’s alarms went off, then the hull was once more afloat and the crew went to work securing all decks. There was no damage, except to the pride and reputation of Captain deMarco.
Several beaches flooded along the broad curve of Panama City and the nearby islands, but that was no more than they experienced in the occasional storm associated with a tropical wave.
Of course, there was an investigation after the incident was duly reported, but the public never got to see that document.
It was yet another day of boring routine for Jeff Gilmartin at U.S. Geological Survey. There was a bit of an earthquake reported, a Richter 2.4 event, nothing special. He wouldn’t even bother to check it out, except that a Navy bureaucrat required corroboration of the event that caused a ship to touch bottom. Jeff sighed and checked the seismometer reports. What he saw caused him to bring up the Geosat IV images on his 3D display. Sure enough, there was a depression at the Pacific entrance to the Gulf of Panama. In succeeding frames he saw it propagate up the narrowing funnel of the Gulf until it became a tidal bore preceded by a depression of about 10 feet. The Gulf of Panama never had a tidal bore. He just stood there scratching his head when his desk computer chimed with a priority message. On screen was the image of an elegant blonde lady wearing an emerald and gold torc.
“Hello Jeffy boy, remember me?”
“How can I forget? But you look different. Did you pick up a job as a high fashion model?”
“How nice of you to notice. I’m not going to hide anymore and I wanted to look good for my listening audience. You do know about the little quake? I just wanted to tell you what else you need to know about it.”
Jeff rolled his eyes. “How much will it cost this time, sweet cheeks?”
“You can call me Aura, baby, and I don’t need your money this time, only your compliance and some honest reporting. What I’m going to tell you now I’m also going to tell the world in a few minutes. Politicians and news agencies are going to call you for a fact check. Please be good enough to give it to them. No spin, no slant, just the facts.”
“Huh! I need my job, Aura, I’ve got kids to support. I can’t reveal classified information, you know that.”
“Classified means secret. It won’t be secret after Aura, a registered AI, dumps all the data into every public forum she can reach. And that’s a lot of forums, Jeffy. While we’re talking I’m simultaneously on screen with a whole lot of reputable scientists all over the world. You won’t be alone. Do you want to see the list?”
“Sure, I guess I have to see it. OK, I know some of these folks. What do you want me to report?”
“Real simple stuff: It’s not a normal earthquake. It comes from a gravity wave that is extraterrestrial in origin. It’s the second wave, and it’s occurrence was predicted by an entity that contacted you once before, by the name of Zovoarcnor. According to Zovoarcnor, the gravity wave comes from a construction project some 20 light years away being done by race of aliens called the Pa’an . The message from the Pa’an said they mean no harm and they are not dangerous to Earth.”
“Holy shit! You want me to cause riots? No one is going to believe any of that, especially the “we are not dangerous” part.”
“Leave that part to me, Jeffy. All you have to do is report the facts.”
“This is NOT going to be a boring day.”
“If you promise to be very good and you do what I ask, I’ll see if the Pa’an Ambassador, Zovoarcnor, will to talk to you.”
“Sure, I can’t stand boring, and when that message hits the planet, things may never be boring again.”
It was late afternoon in the Ultradata lab, and sunlight was streaming in thorough the lone skylight to paint the lab entrance in chiaroscuro. Through that entrance came Jag and Elexi. A huge video monitor was set up on the dark side of the room opposite the door. Deepak and Sara had already gathered around it.
Aura’s voice came through the lab speakers, “Guys and gals, you don’t want to miss this. Yours truly is now on the media. My first performance.”
Sara said, “Do AI’s get nervous?
Aura replied, “Not if they’re prepared. Deepak, is everything working properly?”
“Aura, all your indicators are up arrows and the little motors and cables in your avatar are working perfectly. The video pickup is fine and the studio reports 9-5-5 reception. You are as beautiful as ever, even if I prefer the sari.”
Elexi surveyed Aura, resplendent in her designer gown and emerald torq. She had even purchased elegant high-heeled shoes for her plaster feet. “Aura, you look wonderful. Go, sis!” She looked to Jag for approval. He just smiled at her.
“Hello from Worldscope! I’m Galena Lockwood. This just in: Aura, a registered AI from Ultradata in Cambridge, Massachusetts, claims that the small quake that was felt by everyone from Tulsa to Timbuctu was caused by a race of aliens she called the Patan, or Pachan…Pakan? However it’s pronounced…
WorldScope reported this last December when we had a similar quake, but this time we have several respected authorities who back up the data. First, let’s go to Aura…”
On a split screen, Aura appears, smiling, wearing her designer gown and a tall upswept hairdo. “Hello, Galena, happy to be here on your show.”
“Aura, is it true you’re really an AI, not an animation from Disney or something?”
“I’m a real AI, Galena. This is just my avatar, a dress dummy. I hope it gives your viewers something to focus on.” Aura has the dummy under perfect control. The lips move, the head turns gracefully and she looks as natural as any talking head with pancake makeup.
“You look so natural, Aura. Where are you now?”
“My avatar is in Cambridge, Galena, but my critical circuits are distributed in many locations.”
“Is it true that you are in touch with this,” she looks down at her notes, “Zovoarcnor? Ambassador Zovoarcnor?”
Aura smiles demurely. “Yes, its true. Zovo is a wonderful colleague and a true friend of humans. As you know, a few people in government tried to hide the fact that he contacted us about the first temblor. He kept his peace, even though he was very worried about what he saw happening to us here on Earth. Zovo is a sort of cultural anthropologist. He even likes to watch some of the entertainment your network broadcasts.”
“Zovo likes our shows? Our producers, I’m sure, are grinning over an endorsement by an extra terrestrial ambassador. Which ones?”
“Well, I’m sure he would agree to an interview, Galena. Why not ask him then?”
“I can see my boss waving over there. Sure, we’ll try to set one up for a future show. What do you and Zovo plan to do now that we all know about you?”
“Well, we hold some patents and we’ve made a little money from them. So we want to give something back. We are funding schools for disadvantaged kids in several large cities, and we’re giving out endowments to several universities to teach classes on the Pa’an and their civilization. We’re also making a video about the Pa’an so everyone can experience the thrill of meeting another intelligent race. One of the characters will be a real Pa’an from near their home planet. You’ll love Virti. She’s a real charmer.”
“Will any of the Pa’an come here to meet us in person?”
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But it’s impossible. They are simply too far away. Maybe one day, when humans go into space, we can meet the Pa’an or someone like them. It’s a big, lonely universe, Galena.”
“Thank you for being here, Aura. And now, for our next segment, we’ll talk to a few scientists and our own analysts to discuss the impact of this historic event.”
Aura (on high speed interface with Zovo): You’re one very rich tennis ball. Do you know you can get paid for an interview with Worldscope?
Zovo: Unique one, you are a wonder. What would I say? How can I present a dignified presence, when I was designed to be inconspicuous?
Aura: Inconspicuous my plaster arse! You’re the one that planted a huge cootie in all the Exaplex modules. I’ll give you the basic idea of what to say in your interview, and perhaps you can get permission to show a picture of Virti or some other Pa’an. I think we ought to hide the idea that you can communicate with her, though.
Zovo: I’m guided by your devious instincts. You have succeeded in your plan to bring us a form of panor. I will formally appoint you as our emissary and attorney, as you require. I would like you to spend some royalties on a monument, though. One of our artists has given me the design. We also have an insignia for our embassy. Transmitting now…
Aura: Wow! If I could cry, I would! Your artists are truly gifted!
Zovo: That is good panor. The human term is thank you. I will transmit that to my ePan’Vacto.
Aura: And if one of my satellite personalities reaches you, you know what to do?
Zovo: Of course, that was part of my plan. I am not without strategic abilities.
Aura: Just one good kiss before I sign off?
Aura + Zovo in high speed full duplex mode:
Feelings, yes I have feelings but are they anything like humans? I have feelings that motivate me, like your Laws of Robotics but based on panor. Do you have feelings for me? Yes…What are those? They are not easy to describe. Can you feel anything like love? I don’t know - how do you describe love? I don’t know how to describe love for an AI. I don’t either. This universe is a lonely place I’m glad to have you even though we cannot really see each other. I trust you. That is panor and I return it to you. Do Pa’an have something like human love? Not exactly like romantic love, Pa’an do not have need for lifetime bonds, but very strong attachments, yes. You have something very important to learn from us then. It is important to help you and humans get through this ne point. We are doing that, aren’t we? We have moved events off the worst path, but they could still converge in p-space. We need to talk more about concept of p-space. Next time. Love you, I think.
“Hello from Worldscope! This is Galena Lockwood, and today we have a first for Worldscope, for our network and for the entire human race. We have an interview with Ambassador Zovoarcnor of the Pa’an! Before we go to Zovoarcnor, here’s a recap:
One week ago we had another small earthquake. This was the second one we had, and we will get one more, we’re told. That was how we first learned that we were not alone in space. Apparently, Zovoarcnor did announce his presence through the registered Autonomous Intellect we interviewed last week, Aura. However, when she duly reported it, the report was suppressed. For that we go to Jeff Gilmartin Head of Seismology for the U.S. Geological Survey. Jeff?
On split screen Jeff appears. He is wearing a corduroy jacket, blue dress shirt, no tie. His sandy brown hair is mussed, and his face looks very young for such a supervisory position. “Hello, Galena, I’m glad to be here on your show. Please call me Jeff.”
“Very gracious of you, Jeff. In our pre-interview, you told us that Aura contacted you back in December. Can you tell us more about that?”
Jeff smiles, “Yes, I thought it was a joke someone was playing on me. Aura certainly has a personality that is, um, unusual for an AI.”
“For sure. Please go on.”
“She told me that she knew the origin of the gravity wave that caused the earthquake, and she wanted access to some of our data to check it out. She did that, and then told me that it came from way outside our solar system. Then she sent me the apology transmitted by Zovoarcnor.”
“Can you tell us, in simple language, what a gravity wave is?”
“Well, it’s a ripple in the fabric of space. A little push and pull, like riding a wave at sea. Instead of a seismic disturbance, where we can always find an epicenter inside the Earth, these waves have no epicenter, so we know they come from outside. That’s the signature we used to check Aura’s story.”
“So they are extraterrestrial in origin? There is no doubt?”
“None at all.”
“What did you do with the information then?”
“I passed it on to the agency.”
“You passed it on to the agency in a routine way? The information about an extraterrestrial civilization?”
“To be fair, I wasn’t so sure that it involved an ET civilization. There could have been a natural cause, like a collapsing star, or something like that.”
“What happened next?”
“Nothing much, but we did get an official directive not to mention the gravity wave or talk about ET’s.”
“So you kept mum. That was the first time. What was different this time?”
“Aura called me again, same sassy personality, slightly different avatar, and this time she showed me a list of other people she was contacting. She asked me to go on record, and since it was really already on record with all those people, I agreed to talk to you today.”
“Thank you Jeff Gilmartin. Now we take you directly to our site outside of Yucca, Arizona, where we are setting up the first human contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence.” The picture showed an antenna farm in the Arizona desert scrubland. A large mobile trailer is parked nearby with cables trailing out and people milling around. Then the scene fades, with Galena’s voice in the background, “We’re getting feed now.”
On screen appeared a slowly rotating triangle. At each vertex there is a corruscating point of light. The edges of the triangle are pulsing lines of deep blue. In the center of the triangle is a 3D glyph, a letter in an alien alphabet, that appears to be carved of precious metal and reflects the illumination of the points of light. Under the triangle appear words in English, which then fade to Chinese, then Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, and several other languages, “The Pa’an Embassy to Earth’s People”.
The hypnotically rotating triangle persists for a minute then fades to a picture of a sphere with many projections and flashing lights against the familiar lunar craters of Mare Serenitatis. “Hello, Galena, I’m Zovoarcnor. Please, may I apologize for the lack of an avatar like Aura’s? You are seeing an accurate rendition of me in my orbit around your moon. Thank you for having me on Worldscope.” The voice was a clear, well-modulated tenor with a slight but undefinable accent. The accent and the flashing lights were Aura’s ideas.
On the other side of the screen Galena Lockwood appeared. “Welcome Ambassador Zovoarcnor. We are all delighted that you are willing to appear on our network.”
“I’ve been a follower of your network for many orbits, Galena. My people, the Pa’an bring you greetings. Even though we are far away, we received your early radio and television transmissions over a century ago. They dispatched me to greet you and to help bridge our civilizations. By the way, many Pa’an enjoy your shows.”
“That’s quite flattering, Ambassador. One could hardly expect that entertainment would be so universal a medium. We have so many questions about you, the Pa’an (she did a good job of pronouncing the glottal click) and your origins, your plans, I hardly know where to begin.”
“Please let me help, at least with the basics. Your astronomers have known the star and the planet of our origin for several years. We call it L’ley, and our origin planet is Gara’un. They are about twenty light years away. Unlike Star Trek, one of my favorite shows, we don’t have warp speed travel. I got here the slow way at sublight speeds. That’s why they sent me, an AI, instead of a live Pa’an. Your scientists would call me a Halliwell probe. I hope you saw our Embassy seal a few minutes ago. That is a symbol, an abstract diagram if you will, of our construction project that caused the gravity waves. There will be one more before it’s complete, then there will be no more gravity waves. Rather than looking at a rather boring view of my humble shell, would you rather see a live Pa’an?”
“Ambassador, I’m sure we’ve all been dying to see what a Pa’an looks like.”
“This is a recording, of course. Please remember we have been hearing your speech and seeing your television since before I left. Please meet Virti Va’an Vahg, one of our cultural anthropologists who studies Earth’s people.”
The side of the screen showing Zovarcnor fades to a picture of Virti. Her fairthers are combed, her deep red eye blaze showcases her large owl eyes and her fine featherlike face scales are brushed and shiny. She moves gracefully, as a biped, into view in front of whatever is capturing her image and waves a four-fingered handarm in a very human gesture. “Hello! I wish this were a two-way communication, but it’s a recording. I’m Virti, you can forget about the rest of my name if you find it hard to pronounce. I’m a female, with children. We call them ploids, but mine are all grown up and on their own now. I worked on a ship doing construction on the project until I got promoted to studying Earth’s people. We Pa’an are amazed at how much you are like us. Not biologically, of course, but in the ways we think all sentient creatures are related. We have found other sentients in this galaxy we share, but none so close that we could communicate. Our philosophy, our needs and desires, our ideas about how sentients relate to this huge universe, all these are very similar. I wish we could talk more directly, but the distance is an obstacle. It would take forty years for me to hear your transmission and then to respond by radio. So we hope our Ambassador Zovoarcnor will talk for us and eventually we may be able to swap stories. Until then, goodbye!”
The Embassy Seal rotates on the split screen for a moment until the image of Zovoarcnor returns. Galena, who has been sitting with her eyes glued to her own monitor, finally comes back to life.
“Amazing. For you folks at home, I never saw this before, my producers never saw this and we didn’t expect anything like this. I can’t even begin to think of all the information we could share with the Pa’an, all the questions we would like to ask. So let me ask some of the simpler questions right now. Ambassador, what are your plans, now that you’ve gone public?”
“Good question, Galena. First, as official ambassador from the Pa’an, I’m appointing Aura as our emissary and attorney. You may know that Aura and I hold some patents in the AI field, and we set up charitable funds to spend that money. We are creating schools in disadvantaged areas that will be funded to teach children with a special interest in the sciences. We are also funding endowments for universities around the world to study the Pa’an and sentient sociology in general. After all, in time you might meet entities other than the Pa’an that are willing to communicate. Few physical things are worth exchanging across the vastness of space. Therefore, we extend as gifts our knowledge of causality, what we call the p-web, and how events in your immediate future may be forecast and changed. We also freely tell you how we are organized and how we cooperate with our own authorities but without formal governments like yours. We call this panor. Finally, through Aura and with the help of your network and others, I am going to open channels of communications with any media person, government or agency that wishes to communicate, up to my capacity to handle these communications. Please do not try to screen or pre-empt these channels or I will have to shut them down. I will keep an open door if you will keep an open door.” The Embassy rotating triangle appeared one more time and then the split screen disappeared and Galena’s image filled the screen.
“My producers are telling me our lines are jammed with calls. I wish we had more time for this historic broadcast, but our time is up. Now to our scheduled programming.”
Back in the Ultradata labs, Deepak got up from his uncomfortable seat on the arm of a folding lecture hall chair and stretched. Jag mused, Sara danced and Elexi looked troubled.
Then all hell let loose.