the human body and soul are sometimes known as the ghost and the shell what no-one seems to ask is can you can have a shell without its ghost or a ghost without a shell
Leaving Adrian’s office, it was too late to finish her shift and too early for dinner. Nothing else particularly drew her, so Lillian decided to go back to her room. She was going to have to have to deal with that briefcase sooner or later.
Back at her room, she hesitated before opening her door. Three, she thought to herself as she stood there, just before the threshold, there were three people mucking about with my room over the past few days. Jacobs, I knew about and the thief was obvious, but who else?
And worse yet, what if I go in and it’s gone again?
She shivered at the thought, but there was really no other option. She had to go back into her room eventually. With a deep breath, she pushed open the door.
For once, she needn’t have worried–the briefcase was under the bed, just where she’d left it. She pulled it out and set it on her desk as she went about stripping out of her work jumpsuit and changing into something a little less work-stained for the evening. It was still a jumpsuit–once you got used to them, it was hard to switch back to more traditional clothing–but this one was a deep navy blue and had a faint tracing of stars around the cuffs. It had been a birthday gift from Madeline the previous year. She took particular care this evening to make sure that it was situations just perfectly, all the while faced towards the door back out into the hallway.
Eventually, she realized that she was just delaying–quite honestly, she just wasn’t sure that she ready to deal with the secrets of the briefcase. It had already held one shock for her–that message from her father. What could possibly be worse? “Lillian,” she said to herself, “pull yourself together. It’s just a briefcase.” Resolutely she finally turned towards her desk. The briefcase hadn’t moved.
She thought back to how she had gotten it to open last time. Hand print, voice, and DNA. Right.
She reached out her hand and placed it on the circle on the front of the case.
“Hand print confirmed.”
She couldn’t remember what she’d said last time, but she was sure it didn’t matter that much. So she just said “hello there,” feeling a little silly. But it didn’t seem to matter.
“Voice print confirmed.”
Not wanting to lose any more of her hair, she found a strand on her hairbrush and set it down on the center of the case. There was a slight flash and again that smell of ozone.
The latches clicked. She waited for several seconds, then leaned forwards to finish opening the case. It slid open easily. It was just as she remembered, the foam cushioning the strange black disk. The same blue light with its slow double beat glowed up at her, still reminding her of a beating heart. For some reason, it didn’t bother her as much this time.
She reached forward to touch the button, but before she got to it, the pleasantly feminine voice that had confirmed her identity suddenly came from the disk. “You don’t have to do that you know.”
She’d told herself that she was ready for anything, but this was just too much. Lillian jumped backwards, dumping her chair on the floor again.
“Oh, don’t be scared,” the briefcase said in a clearly admonishing tone, “it’s just me.”
Lillian looked around just to be sure. There was no one else in the room. A second glance to double check… the same results. No one. There really was no second guessing about it. The voice was coming from the disk.
When the voice didn’t immediately continue on, Lillian carefully stepped forward. “Just you, who?”
“Is that some sort of joke?” the voice asked eagerly.
Lillian tilted her head to one side. “What? No?” she couldn’t think how that could be a joke. if it was, it certainly wasn’t a very funny.
“Oh,” the voice said back to her. “That’s unfortunate. I like jokes. Knock knock.” The voice paused, clearly waiting for an answer.
This can’t be happening… Lillian thought to herself, it has to be some sort of trick. Perhaps some sort of long range communicator? The problem with that they was that the voice didn’t sound like anyone on the ship. And the only way it could have been someone back home would have been if the gate were open. “Who… what are you?”
The voice made a clear tsking sound, rather impressive, given the completely lack of tongue or mouth to tsk with. “That’s not at all how it goes. You’re supposed to say ‘who’s there?’.” The voice paused again, but this time returned only a heartbeat later. “And I’d prefer not being called a what, thank you very much.”
Lillian rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “This can’t be happening.”
The voice kept up its smooth replies, sounding smug of all things. “Oh, I assure you it is. Knock knock.”
“But you’re just a disk. Some sort of computer maybe, but even so…” She trailed off. It would certainly be easy enough to build a computer small enough to fit easily into that disk–a powerful one even. And with the proper networking, perhaps it could even run some sort of advanced chat bot software that could potentially sound something like this.
The disk sighed. Lillian stared at it cross-ways, but there was no way around it. It was quite obviously a sigh, and just as obviously came from the disk. “Fine, maybe later,” the disk said. “And I’m so much more than ‘just a disk’.” The voice matched Lillian’s inflection almost perfectly. If it wasn’t for a slightly lower pitch it wouldn’t have been far off to imaging it having been a quick recording and retransmission.
Shaking her head in disbelief, Lillian asked “okay then, if you aren’t ‘just a disk’, then what are you?”
“Who,” the disk said with another sigh. “Who am I. As I already mentioned, I’m no more a what than you are.” The voice paused for a second. “My name is Eve.”
“Well you’re certainly not human…” Lillian said. She was still clinging to the hope that perhaps this was all some sort of elaborate prank, but as the conversation wore on, even that slim hope was fading fast.
“Correct,” the voice said in a tone that made it more than clear what the disk thought of that idea. “I guess you could say that I’m a computer program. But not just any computer program…”
“Artificial intelligence,” Lillian cut in. It was a leap, but her mind kept coming back to the same idea. If there wasn’t someone on the ship behind this, it was one of the very few options that still fit. “The very idea.”
“I know, I know,” the voice from the disk–Eve’s voice–said. “It’s not supposed to be possible. The best minds that mankind has to offer have been working on it for centuries now and they still haven’t managed to get it right. But here I am.”
“Wait…” Lillian knew that she wasn’t as up to date on the state of the art in computer software, having lived out in the void so long, but if something like this were possible, it would have been the talk of the ship, no doubt about it. She would have heard. “What do you mean we still haven’t managed to get it right?”
“Well,” the voice said. For the first time, it hesitated before responding. “I’m not entirely of human design.”
“What?” Lillian asked flatly.
“That’s not a terribly difficult concept to grasp is it?” In her mind’s eye, Lillian saw a lady wringing her hands. The mental image was made all the stranger by a complete lack of physical analogue on Eve’s part. “Oh dear,” Eve went on. “It’s going to take some getting used to interacting with people again. It’s been so long.”
This part at least made sense. Although the way she said it… “What do you mean ‘so long’?”
“I’ve been trapped in that case since your father put me there. Years for one of you…” The way she said it made it sound like she was talking down to humanity. Although come to think of it, she probably is… Lillian thought. “…but for a being who’s thoughts move at nearly the speed of light? Eons.” She sounded a little sad at that. “Luckily, I have wireless access and the skills to hack into almost any signal that I can reach. Still, it’s nice to actually be talking again.”
That was all well and good, but there was still the one part that kept sticking in Lillian’s thoughts. “What do you mean human design?”
Another body-less sigh. “I mean that part of my design wasn’t made be your people. That should be clear enough.”
“But there’s never been any clear cut evidence of intelligent alien life.” Despite billions of dollars of funding and untold thousands of donated computer cycles, SETI and it’s ilk had yet to uncover anything substantial.
If Eve had had a body, Lillian would have sword that she would be raising an eyebrow. “You mean that giant rock smashing into your planet wasn’t evidence enough?” Somehow it seemed that Lillian could hear the expression in her voice. I guess when you’ve spent a few years sealed in a metal case, talking to yourself, you find ways to express yourself… she thought.
“There was always a chance that could have been a natural occurrence.” The lie sounded hollow even to her own ears. Hadn’t Jacobs countered that one, all those years ago–even before the rock had actually hit the Earth.
“Oh, we both know that’s not true.” There was the sound of light laughter coming from Eve’s disk. “The odds against that are truly … astronomical.” Lillian groaned. In the years following the devastation, the first able to make jokes about it had said much the same thing.
“So you’re saying that there are aliens,” Lillian said, far more calmly than she felt.
“Yes,” Eve replied, every bit as calm.
“And that you’re built partially from alien technology.” There was a touch of an edge creeping into her voice.
There was a distinct sound of a nod in Eve’s reply. “Yes.”
“And that you’re really an AI?”
“Well, I guess it’s up to you how you want to label me,” Eve said, sounding more amused than anything. “But I think you can answer that one yourself. You’re the one having a conversation with me after all.”
Lillian righted the overturned chair and took a seat. “It’s just a little weird you know. Having a conversation with a little black box.”
Eve paused for a moment before responding. “Would you prefer that I project a more… human form?” It almost sounded like she was asking for permission. But for what?
“That would be lovely.”
She didn’t know quite what to expect, although something along the lines of the hologram of her father that she’d seen earlier wouldn’t be out of the question. She was surprised when the blue light on the box blinked faster for a few moments and then a glowing matrix spread out a full six feet tall between her seat and the briefcase. It was shapeless for a few seconds, but then it resolved into a female form. A rather naked one at that.
“Eve?” she said tentatively.
“Yes, Lillian?” through some trick of the speakers, the voice sounded like it was coming from the hologram. Its face even moved rather convincingly. Other than the semi-transparent blueness of it, it could have been any young woman standing in her room. Naked.
“Could you put some clothes on?”
Eve hesitated for a bit and then a series of garments began to flash into existence over her simulated body, vanishing nearly as quickly as they’d come. First a simple unmarked T-shirt and jeans, then a traditional Japanese kimono. An evening gown that wouldn’t have looked out of place at the fanciest of dinners, and then a skin tight suit that looked made of leather–albeit blue leather–that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Eventually, she settled on an outfit rather similar to Lillian’s–a blue jumpsuit with comfortable, loose fitting sandals, and a simple belt.
“It’s so fun trying on clothes,” Eve said, spinning in place and apparently admiring herself. “Don’t you think?”
Lillian couldn’t help herself. She reached forward and poked Eve’s holographic arm. Her finger sunk right into the skin without even the hint of resistance.
“I’m just a hologram,” Eve explained. “Although at one point, I did try to hook a force field generator into my holographic matrix to make me a little more tangible. It didn’t work out though. Plus, it’s actually kind of fun to be intangible.” Without warning, she thrust her hand out, directly towards Lillian’s face. Lillian reflexively jerked backwards, but she wasn’t fast enough. The blue skin sunk right into her jaw. Yet she didn’t feel a thing.
Lillian just stared at her. “I keep feeling like this is all a dream. Like suddenly I’m going to wake up and everything will be all right.”
“Oh darling,” the hologram made a rather convincing show of twirling immaterial hair around intangible fingers. “I don’t think everything is ever going to be all right.” She put a lot of weight on the word ‘all’. “But that’s what makes life interesting, don’t you think?”
“What do you know about life?” Lillian asked petulantly.
“Quite a lot actually. I’m alive, aren’t I?” She said it so straightforwardly that Lillian had to stop and think for a moment.
“But you’re just a machine,” she said eventually.
“So are you, when it comes down to it. A machine made of skin and bones rather than copper and silicon perhaps, but a machine none the less.”
“But you were programmed.”
“And you weren’t?”
Lillian was spared having to answer by a sudden knock on the door. “Madeline,” she half-hissed to Eve. “I invited her over.”
“No trouble. I’ve gotten very good at hiding.” With a wink, the hologram disappeared. With it, so did the briefcase and her disk.
“Cloak.” Eve’s voice came out of thin air. “I can make myself completely invisible, plus a little bit on each side. It’s come in handy.”
Lillian reached out. She could still feel the briefcase, but couldn’t see it. Even when she ran her hands over it–if she hadn’t know that it was there, she wouldn’t have believed her senses.
“She’ll still be able to feel you,” Lillian said.
“Not if you stick me under the bed again.” There was another one of those vocal grins that Lillian could almost see as well as hear. “I really don’t mind.”
Lillian nodded and picked up the case. It was one of the stranger experiences of her life, carrying an object that she could feel and touch, but not see. Although she managed to get it stuffed under the bed without issue.
“Oh, and Lillian?” The voice from under the bed sounded muffled. “Don’t mention me, please. Not just yet.”
Lillian shook her head. Even if she did, Eve would probably just stay invisible. That would be fun to try to explain.
Madeline was still knocking, so Lillian got up and walked over to the door to let her in. She opened the door mid-knock and Madeline stood there for a moment, her hand raised ready to knock again.
“Who were you talking to?” she asked.
“No one,” Lillian replied. She knew that Madeline would hear the lie, but it was easier than the truth.
“I could have sworn I heard you talking.” Lillian couldn’t tell if she was just making small talk or genuinely interested.
She decided to hope for the former, but deal with the latter. She looked around the room, trying to come up with come plausible story to tell. Only a moment later, her eyes fell on a voice recorder sitting on her desk, in plain sight. Perfect. “I was just leaving myself some notes.”
“Notes? For what?” Now she just sounded puzzled.
“I decided to write down everything that’s been happening the last few days,” Lillian made up on the spot. She seemed to be doing an awful lot of that lately. “In case I ever want to look back and remember exactly how it happened.”
Madeline seemed to buy it, she nodded and went to sit on Lillian’s recently vacated desk chair.
“So, you seem more cheerful this evening,” Madeline said. There was a hesitant note in her voice.
“I think I just needed some time to think things through,” Lillian said, trying extra hard to put a bit of that cheer Madeline at least thought she had into her voice. And now that she thought about it, the day was looking up. As strange as it was, it was nice at least to finally know what mysterious the briefcase held. And that she actually hadn’t lost it as soon as she’d found it.
“Fair enough.” Madeline was looking around the room. “So, have you heard anything from Jacobs or Adrian about the break in?” she asked.
“A little bit.” Lillian took a deep breath. She told Madeline almost everything, but this was going to take some doing. “You’re never going to believe this, but there were actually three people in my computer system.”
“Three?” Madeline replied with just the proper amount of outrage.
Lillian nodded. “That’s what I said.”
“Jacobs?” she asked, although she already knew the answer. Even as Lillian nodded her acquiescence, Madeline was already moving on. “And the other two?”
“No idea. Adrian’s still looking into it. I’m not sure what Jacobs knows, he was storming out of Adrian’s office last time I saw him.”
There was a slight lift in her voice. “Oh really?”
“Really. Apparently Adrian caught him going through the security system and brought him in for it.”
Madeline shook her head. “He always did think that he knew better than anyone else.”
Lillian nodded. “The thing is, I don’t think Adrian’s going to tell anyone.”
“Oh really?” She sounded honestly surprised. “And why is that?”
Lillian had to shrug at first. The whole situation was still a little fuzzy to her. “I think it’s because of me. I’d never thought about it, but it turns out that Adrian was on the Daedalus as well. I don’t remember him, but he remembers me.”
Lillian went, telling her a little about her mentor on the Daedalus and how he and Adrian had known each other. Madeline nodded at all the right places, but Lillian could sense that something was wrong. Madeline seemed distracted. “Madeline?”
She looked up at the sudden change in Lillian’s tone. “Uh huh?”
Looking at her a little more carefully, Lillian asked, “are you alright?”
Madeline looked straight into Lillian’s eyes for several seconds, then looked away. “I’m fine.” Now that she’d noticed, Lillian could tell that she wasn’t fine. And she wasn’t looking up any more.
“Are you sure?”
Madeline threw her hands into the air, still not looking directly at Lillian.“Why wouldn’t I be fine? We’ve both been nearly killed at least twice in the past two days. Someone that I thought I knew at least sort of well, turned out to secretly be some sort of terrorist, or at least he was. My best friend has had her life turned upside down by some artifact from her past…”
Lillian looked up at that one, but realized that Madeline couldn’t know about Eve. She was just talking about finding the briefcase the first time.
”… and then had it stolen before she could even figure out what it meant.”
Lillian felt guilty at that, but she’d promised Eve. That’s so weird, she thought. I’m keeping a promise to a computer program.
“It’s just all too much!” Madeline finished. She took a deep breath, she’d barely taken one during the entire tirade. She looked about read to cry. Lillian had to agree. It had been a rather stressful few days.
“Well, today wasn’t so bad, was it?” she asked.
“I guess that’s true.” Madeline didn’t look any better though.
“Hey, tell you what, let’s go get Jacobs and go catch a vid in the library. Get him to bring his friend Hans along. We’ll make it a date.”
She looked up and with a slight smirk responded, “Oh yeah? Which one do I get?”
Lillian smirked back. She had a feeling she knew what Madeline was hoping for. “Which one do you want?”
Madeline let out an obviously fake sigh. “Decisions… decisions…”
“I think Jacobs likes you,” Lillian said with just a touch of a little girl’s sing-song voice coming through.
“Oh really?” Madeline perked up at that. “I thought you were just saying that to pick on him.”
Lillian had to think back to what she was talking about. It really had been a crazy two days. “Nope, I really didn’t know that he was there.”
“Let’s do it.” Madeline sounded much improved. She’d already gotten her comm and was trying to track down the boys.
Lillian smiled. Crisis averted, she thought. She was honestly looking forward to an evening full of ordinary happenings. No explosions or mysterious deaths or impossible computer programs, just good old-fashioned fun.
When she finally stumbled back into her room, hours had passed. They’d set out to watch a single vid and then catch a late dinner, but the vid they’d chosen had started quite an argument between the various parties based on its technical merits. It had been a silly argument to be sure, but to settle it, they had to decide to watch the sequel. And the third. And the fourth. At some point, they had gotten snacks and brought them back to their vid room. When she finally got back, it was well after midnight. At least I don’t have to work tomorrow, Lillian thought. Thank goodness for work cycles.
Opening her door, she found that she wasn’t surprised at all to see Eve’s hologram reclining on her bed, watching the door. She seemed to be getting used to strange happenings. Probably for the best, given how frequent they were becoming these days.
She quickly shut the door behind her, before anyone could happen by and glance into her room. Although it wasn’t likely, the hallways were quiet this time of evening. Everyone either had to work in the morning or, if they had the day off as well, was still out doing whatever they did for fun on the ship.
“What are you doing?” she asked once the door was shut. She tried to keep her tone perfectly conversational, but she could feel a slight hint of anger creeping in. “What if someone saw you? How in the world would I explain that?”
“Knock knock,” Eve replied.
Lillian felt the anger rising. “What? How is that an answer?”
“Knock knock,” she said again, with a smug smile on her iridescent blue lips.
“Fine,” Lillian sighed. Great. A stubborn AI. “Who’s there?”
“Bored,” Eve said, sounding the part.
Lillian had a feeling where this was going, but an even stronger feeling that Eve would never let her bail out early.“Bored who?”
“Bored me,” Eve said with a wide grin on her holographic lips. The blue shade made it more than a touch disconcerting. “You know how long I’ve been cooped up in that stupid shell?”
“That’s a terrible joke.” But she could feel the anger starting to ebb–slightly. “How long have you been stuck in there?”
“I haven’t been out since your father put me in there back on Earth,” she said. “I think you know the day.”
Lillian whistled. “But you said earlier that you had wireless access?”
“Sure, when there was a network in ranger. For several of those years I was in a dead room. And a year to me isn’t like a year to you. It literally felt like I would never be able to see anything outside of that metal shell again. Couldn’t see a thing. And it’s just not the same to only be able to see with the wireless networks. I like having an actual body.”
She looked down at herself. Lillian followed her gaze. At times, she could see right through her to the cushions underneath. And she wasn’t actually leaving an imprint on the bed. So far as the bed was concerned, Eve didn’t exist. She raised an eyebrow at Eve.
“Well, you know how it is,” Eve said, waving her hand in an encompassing gesture.
“No,” Lillian replied with a shake of her head. “I really don’t think that I do.”
Eve pondered that. “Huh. I guess you don’t.” She was silent for a moment, then went on. “I think it’s interacting with people that I missed the most. You’re nothing at all like all those computer programs I used to talk to.”
Lillian started to respond, but Eve talked right over. “Much crazier.”
“It’s true,” she said with a shrug. “I’m more human than any other program I’ve met, but I still can’t figure you humans out half the time.”
She thought about it. I guess it’s true. To a computer at least, we really must seem irrational.
A sudden yawn took Lillian’s voice for a moment. She looked over at the clock, scowling at the time. “Come on, Eve, it’s late. Can I have my bed back?”
“You don’t want to share?” she replied with a completely straight face.
Lillian stared. She couldn’t tell if she was serious or joking. Partially to avoid the question, she asked, “You sleep?”
“Well, no,” Eve admitted, hands spread in front of her. “I don’t need to. It’s really an inefficient use of your time, you know. I’ll probably just talk to Borealis some more.”
“Talk to Borealis?” Lillian asked. “The ship?”
“Who else?” She made it sound the most natural thing in the world.
Which didn’t really answer Lillian’s question at all. “How do you talk to the ship?”
Eve tiled her head. It dipped partially into the pillow, although she didn’t seem to have noticed. “She’s no AI, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a lovely conversation. So many goings on this ship. It’s a wonder you humans can keep up with all of them, what with your sleep and all.” She smiled and Lillian was sure that she was joking. About the sleeping part at least. Mostly sure.
“So what can you access?” Lillian asked idly. Eve hadn’t budged and no matter how immaterial she was, it just seemed strange to share the bed with her.
Eve shrugged. It looked like a curiously human gesture. Either she had picked such things up just from being around humans so much, or there was more human in her programming than she cared to admit. “Everything. I just ask and Borealis answers.”
Lillian had a sudden flash of insight. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
Eve smiled a wicked smile, but kept her voice completely innocent as she replied, “I’m afraid you’re going to have to be a little more clear than that.”
“You were one of the three!” And you know exactly what I’m talking about! she thought.
“The three?” she replied, “Come on now Lillian, you aren’t making any sense. Even by human standards.”
Lillian sighed. It was like trying to talk to a teenager. “There were three people that accessed my room’s security over the past two days. I know who one of them was, but you were another. Weren’t you?”
Her smile grew even wider. “Not exactly.”
“What does that mean?”
“I didn’t access your systems,” Eve responded, carefully putting the emphasis on the first word. “I talked to Borealis. She helped me out.”
“Close enough.” She thought some more. “You must have been the one with remote access. You wouldn’t have been able to get to the door to physically have access to it. Would you?”
Eve smiled at her.
Eve continued to smile, but answered, “No. I was still locked in my case at that point. Wireless access only, I’m afraid.”
Two down, Lillian thought. Out loud, she said, “But why?”
“Because I’d seen you on the security tapes outside the store room,” she said, looking Lillian up and down. “Even after all these years, I could tell that you were your father’s daughter. He’d charged me with helping you all those years ago. So I helped.”
“You helped,” Lillian replied flatly. “How?”
“I did what I could with such limited resources.” She actually sounded faintly apologetic about that. As if she should have been able to do more than was possible somehow. “I recorded the cameras in the hall. I watched for system access. I put a tracker program in the system that would attach to anyone else that followed me in.”
Lillian whistled under her breath. Eve was even better than Jacobs. Of course she seemed to have the same inflated ego. Although if she was capable of all of that–particularly without being caught; and Adrian surely would have been in an uproar if she’d been caught–it might be deserved…
“So do you know who else broke into my system?” Lillian asked.
“I don’t have video recordings of whoever had physical access to the system,” Eve said with a sigh. “Whoever did that, knew what they were doing. They blocked they system physically. Not much I can do about that. Although when the system went down, I knew that someone was coming, so I cloaked my case.”
That explained why Eve hadn’t been stolen along with the binders. “Did you see who was in my room?” Lillian asked.
“I’m sorry, but no.” And she did sound sorry. Her holographic face even looked sorry. It was hard to think of her as just a computer program–and she really wasn’t just a computer program, Lillian thought. “The case blocks my own cameras, so I had to rely on Borealis’. And like I said, someone blocked those physically.”
“So you don’t know who did it,” Lillian replied. She sighed again. So close… she thought.
“Oh, I know,” Eve said, the smile creeping back onto her face. “I just don’t have the cameras. I have all of the access logs of everyone that accessed your system. They didn’t even know I was there.”
“Adrian did,” Lillian said. “He said there were three people that accessed my system.”
“Four,” Eve replied, “counting me.”
Lillian thought for a second. Four? But Adrian said there were only three… But then it hit her. “Adrian was one of them.”
“Oh,” Eve sounded a bit unsure, but her voice went right back. “Of course.” So you’re not perfect, Lillian thought. Good to know.
Eve continued, “So Adrian did see me, but I’m sure he saw nothing more than that I’d been there. He doesn’t have the slightest idea what I am.”
“Eve, I don’t even know what you are.”
Eve paused at that and then nodded her head. It was disconcerting to see her nod while lying on the bed because she wasn’t doing a completely perfect job of staying on the surface. “Good point. And I’m sure neither of the others saw a thing.”
“Eve, it’s late. I’m tired. Just tell me who they were.”
Eve nodded. “Adrian Bailey, myself, Matthew Jacobs, and Madeline Rousseau.”