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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 3: Brown 196
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Slade 168
Derek stared open-mouthed at the entity addressing him. If it had been more like a human, he would have called it an android, a robot designed to look like a human. It had been designed, quite obviously, to look like the indigs, the little greenish humanoids he had already encountered on this huge lost colony spaceship before he had programmed the computer to accept him and his new bride Vashti as officers and promote them to the highest open positions. This robot appeared to have become captain at some point.
The robot repeated itself: “Commander Brown, Commander Brown, please take your stations.”
Finding his sense, Derek stood straight and made an effort at a respectful salute. “Yes, captain. I’m afraid this is our first time on this bridge. Could you point us to our stations?”
“Commander Brown,” he said, indicating to his right, “over here, and Commander Brown,” he shifted to point to his left, “over there.”
Derek stared for a moment, then said, “I’m sorry, Captain, could you clarify that?”
“How could it be more clear?” the machine asked rhetorically. “Commander Brown over here, and Commander Brown over there.”
“Fascinating,” Derek said. “It must be a limitation in the programming.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I take it you are an A.I., an artificial intelligence,” Derek posited.
“As I understand your language, that would be a not inaccurate identification.”
“You obtained your knowledge of our languages by downloading the translation program I installed in the main computer.”
“Indeed, and let me say that was some excellent programming work. I shall be interested in where you learned these skills.”
“Well, that’s complicated, and I will be glad to explain. Are you fully integrated into the computer, or do you connect and disconnect as it suits your purpose?”
“The latter. The ship’s computer is not what you would call intelligent, although extremely sophisticated. I am an independent homonoid artificial intelligence.”
“Oh, I like that word. Homonoid? I don’t think that was in my uploaded dictionary.”
“No, I constructed it from an analysis of your morphology.”
“Yes. It means ‘same-like’, not ‘man-like’ as android means, because you’re not designed to be like men but like the indigenous creatures on this ship.”
“So you have the ability to analyze and modify languages you have learned.”
“Yet you have trouble with our names.”
“Trouble? I don’t see the trouble. What is the problem?”
“O.K., who am I?”
“And who is she?” he said, pointing to Vashti.
“And you don’t see the problem. Obviously the way your system works, you have a designation--probably a binary string--that identifies each of us individually, but when you feed those strings to the translation program to bring them into speech they both convert to the same output?”
“And since you’re not analyzing your own speech, you don’t recognize it. Let’s try this: who is Commander Brown?”
The A.I. stared at him for a moment, then spoke. “I’m afraid that there seems to be a glitch in the program. Those sounds do not return an identification.”
“Ah, but listen to yourself as you speak. Who am I?”
“And who is she?”
“Commander Brow--oh, I see. Both identifications translate to the same audio output. Does that not get confusing for you?”
“Not for us, because we never call each other that.”
“So, what do you call each other?”
“Well, lots of things, really, because humans do that. But you should have our full names on file. Who are we, using our full names?”
“You are Commander Derek Jacob Brown, and she is Commander Vashti Brown, Amira.”
“So the solution would seem to be that you should modify the translation file so that when you address us you use different names for us. I can see that our full names would be awkward, but at least when we are both present you should probably address me as ‘Commander Derek’ and my wife as ‘Commander Vashti’. That way everyone knows who you mean.”
“An excellent solution. Modification made.”
“Commanders Derek and Vashti Brown reporting for duty, Captain. Please direct us to our stations.”
“Commander Derek,” it said, looking at Derek, “as my First Officer you are my left-hand man, and will sit to my left,” he said, pointing to what was now his right, as he was standing in front of his chair facing aft. “Commander Vashti, as second officer, will sit at that station when one of us is not on the bridge, as you will of course sit in the Captain’s chair if I am not here and she will act as first officer if you are not sitting there. Otherwise, she will be over there, to the right, at navigation.”
It occurred to Derek that Vashti knew less than nothing about navigation, but from what he had seen there wasn’t much to navigate. “Very good,” he said. “And what do we call you?”
The homonoid hesitated, then said, “The translation program does not appear to have an audio file corresponding to my identifier,” it said. “I suppose you shall just have to call me ‘Captain’.”
“That works,” Derek answered, and parking his bicycle against an empty seat moved to his station.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #432: Whole New Worlds. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: