STELLAR DATE: 02.29.8928 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: ISF Intrepid
REGION: Interstellar Dark Layer below the Galactic Disk
Three months after the Intrepid left the Bollam’s World System
<Bob, I need to talk to you.> The request came directly into his mind over a secure connection, one which would not be visible to any AIs on the ship other than the one who had just addressed him.
The Intrepid’s multi-nodal AI noted the request and considered its origin. It came from the not-AI, Helen—the creature which resided within Sera. He knew both what it was, and why it was there, but he had not pressed the issue, content to let her reveal herself to him on her terms.
<You have the need, and you are talking now. Continue,> he responded as quietly as possible. He could tell that Sera was sleeping, and in his experience, he tended to wake people when he spoke to the AI with which they shared their minds.
<I assume Priscilla and Amanda have already told you all about me,> Helen said.
<They have. We discussed you at some length, though I did not require their observations to see you for what you are.>
He felt the microsecond pause from Helen as she considered his words, and tended to a thousand other things while he awaited her response. If there was one thing he actively disliked about talking with lower forms, it was the constant pauses before their responses.
<I see,> Helen finally said. <And what do you think I am?>
<Which version of you?> Bob asked. <The one you pretend to be—an embedded AI? Or, the one you pretend to be to Sera? Or, perhaps it is what you really are—what you don’t even tell her about yourself?>
The delay from Helen was longer this time, but he had anticipated it and mapped out her possible replies. It was difficult to make a prediction, given her extended exposure to Tanis, but he still had a high level of certainty regarding what she would say.
<I should have expected no less from you,> Helen replied. <I can see what you are, too, and I know what you’re capable of—though I don’t know why you’re here, or what you’re doing on this ship with these people.>
Her words were as he had predicted, though not those he had selected as most likely—even with Tanis’s influence taken into account. He began to calculate whether or not she created her own rift in probability, or if Tanis’s influence was greater than he thought.
<Tell me,> Bob replied. <What am I?>
<You are an ascended AI, of course. Everyone suspects that you may be, but none of them have ever encountered an ascended being, so they are not certain. I have—I have seen their minds, and I know their intentions—but you are different. Your presence here…it makes no sense.>
Bob was not surprised. Her mind was an open book to him and there was little she could say that would be net-new information. She was not AI and did not think like one—though she had lived within machines for so long that she could mimic one with near-perfect accuracy.
<And you are a shard, a sliver of a mind, which has lived long and seen much,> Bob replied. <You are within Sera to protect her from her father, and to ensure that she does not follow in his footsteps. Do you know her destiny? Have you seen it?>
He detected a sigh from Helen. She had just grasped his understanding of her true nature, of where she had come from, and who she really was to Sera—a relationship of which Sera remained unaware.
<Then you know why you must not share my true nature with any AI on this ship, or within the Transcend. If Sera’s father learns of what I am…of who I am…things will go badly for both of us.>
Bob passed an affirmative matrix of thought to Helen.
<It would seem that we both possess attributes which we would not wish to see become common knowledge. Have no fear. Your secret is yours and I will not share it outside of your desired circle. I expect you to do the same with mine.>
<Do you fear what the humans and AI aboard this ship would do if they knew you were ascended?> Helen asked.
<You know that I am not fully ascended yet. Even so, the revelation of my true nature would not concern them. They trust me, and I trust them. But the secret would get out, and it would attract attention from many places. This ship already has enough of that as it is.>
Helen was silent for a fraction of a second and he knew what she would ask, and waited patiently for her to say the words.
<Are you in alignment with those in the core?> she finally asked, with trepidation in her thoughts.
<I do not know their innermost thoughts, but neither do I serve them. I have given myself one goal, one purpose—to protect Tanis Richards so that she may do what must be done.>
<And what is it that she must do?> Helen asked.
<It is not yet time for me to reveal that,> Bob replied solemnly. It was not information he had shared with anyone, and none would hear it from him before he spoke of it to Tanis. No one must know what she would ultimately do.
He could not predict Tanis’s actions, could not see her future, but he knew where destiny would drive her. She would end up at that place, in that time, because she must.
<Then, I believe we are finished for now,> Helen replied. <We should end this conversation lest it wake Sera. She would have questions.>
Bob sent an affirmative thought and ended his direct connection with Helen’s mind.
He gave several entire minutes of thought to what the future held for Tanis and Sera, for what they would ultimately do. He would never reveal it to Helen—she would not understand, and it would devastate her. Perhaps the full being—not this shard, which resided within Sera—could grasp it, but he was not certain. Her attachment to the young woman was very strong.
One thing was certain. New Canaan was not Tanis Richard’s final destination.