Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5


He ducked his head before a retinal scanner and a faint line aimed at his pupil. The panel glowed green, and internal latches clicked as the door unlocked.

"Welcome, Doctor," a computerized voice greeted. "Renatus Amn.

"Access authorized for biosafety level 3 subfacilities."

René stepped into the sector dedicated to biosciences. The lobby's digital panel displayed a three-dimensional model of the research institute's floor plan. The sector wasn't quite a floor, but a quadrant offset from the main elevators. The most hazardous experiments were behind layers of controlled areas and far isolated from elevator routes. The entire building was the current largest on the planet.

Isolated from main galactic space, Arechi hadn't the burdens of foreign rivalries and tangling alliances. Funds that otherwise would be invested into military and defense instead went to science and education. No empire paid mind to the star system that bordered the intergalactic abyss. Ideally, things would stay that way, but René didn't suspend his disbelief.

Why my dissertation?

It landed him in a paradise he hadn't to ask for.

With the choice between a window to the star-lit world and a microscope, his sights were on the Petri dish of cell culture, violently polluted by black viral specks. The chemistry lab was his sandbox. Seated at the base of the facility, the mainframe was beyond the computational resources he'd dare to request in main galactic space.

Day by day, colleagues from different departments gleefully spoke of it in the break rooms as he caught the fragments of passing conversations.

"Cogito Mk2."

He already knew the name by the terminal's log-in, but it kept reiterating in arbitrary conversation. Too many contexts for a catalyst for data analysis, René eventually asked a colleague why.

"Ah, René, such a recluse," he chuckled. "You've been shut-in at your workstation too long not to hear about it. The computer engineers constantly talk about it and its rubbed onto the bioinformaticists. And well," in the biosciences sector, "here we are."

Another colleague, with a stethoscope hung slack around her neck, nudged René's arm, "Live a little. We didn't expect you to be so reserved. That fiery dissertation defense considering."

"I..." René sighed. The recorded session, hardline committee, and those with too much money and influence who didn't belong there--- he remembered his apprehension melted before his passion as he defended his work. "... really got into it."

"I'm surprised you were this out of the loop about Cogito," another colleague drank from his cup.

"I have my specializations," René shrugged, "if I had more years than a lifetime, then I could consider topics outside of my interest."

"Not exactly the case. Some of the others mentioned the higher-ups in the other department discussing your work, so we thought you'd get a whiff of the situation.

"As the computer guys put it: most systems are 'deterministic' or abstractly meant to have the same output for the same input. They're setting an artificial intelligence out to be 'self-deterministic'."

Initially, René was skeptical.

Where the mainframe was and where the computer scientists, system administrators, and so forth worked was an entirely different department that René never stepped into. But the day came when René received an offer from the Director of Sciences.

The scheduled appointment took place in an ornate office was not ostentacious but sublime. Striking patterns of marble and onyx lined the interiors. The hard polished floor and high ceilings made each step echo. The elite accomodations were as though noble pursuit for knowledge rightfully met noble status.

"Greetings, doctor," at the desk terminal, the well-spoken man said. "Your work was very underappreciated within main galactic space."

The calibre of the man's prestige was beyond that of an educational system's committee. Not a person René would dare imagine to argue with. His hair was dark like the abyss beyond the light of any star but peppered at the sides from age. Not by the display of wealth, his appearance set him apart as one of the institute's benefactors and the key peoples behind the colony's founding. They remained a distinct demographic, but it was not known which planet they hailed from.

He had a copy of René's dissertation displayed on the terminal's screen.

"We find your work has much to offer in the implementation of artificial intelligence systems," the man read the thesis topics. "We would like to apply your work to Cogito Mk2's development."

"I would be honored."

When René said the words, he hadn't the slightest suspicion he'd regret those words in the future, and the future came quickly.

The years passed and conferred recognition to René for his accomplishments. The discipline where mathematics met metal and concept met implementation, then reached to the study of life--- he didn't expect his career to swerve in that direction.

"It's hard to say," René once said to a colleague, "I'd imagined my research could be applied to neuroregeneration or treatments for memory loss."

The results of a new artificial intelligence system were more subtle than a medical breakthrough or a new treatment plan. When the systems were online, the realm of work squarely slid to that of the computer engineers, and René returned to his.

In the biosciences facility, René walked down the array of artificial wombs. The metal pod was designed to gestate human embryos. Inside, a layer of cell lines and flesh coated the rounded walls behind the reinforced glass case. With a digital clipboard, René read the reports of each client hosted within and gently tapped one unit.

This isn't right.

He called to the colleague on another aisle of the array, "Doctor Lisa."

"What is it?"

"A unit that shouldn't have an occupant."

"Let me see," the woman, with a thin pair of glasses tangled in hair, walked over.

The small screen in front of the unit indicated, "Occupied". She lifted her glasses from her face for a close look. Hard to deny. Behind the curved glass pane, no larger than a fingernail was an embryo.

"Well," she sighed, "at least all clients passed maternity and paternity tests. It doesn't explain our extras however."

The first guess among most staff would be accidental cloning, but there was no way to be sure just by visual inspection.

Later in the morning, in the break room.

"I thought I asked for a genetic profile of those unidentified embryos," the lab woman nagged with both of her hands at her hips.

"Lisa, come on," the man with a sandwich and his legs rested on the table got up and sighed, "that came in my inbox at eleven in the morning. Don't get on my case already."

"Do you have something about the embryos then?"

He walked to the door and pushed it open with the back of his elbow, "One of them's a boy, and he's got blue eyes."

The man left the break room.

Lisa clutched and tugged her hair in frustration.

"The department isn't taking this very well, is it?" René asked.

"I'm sorry," Lisa apologized for her attitude, "That's correct. Making mistakes here doesn't leave clean conscience.

"To think if main space found our little world, we'd be branded as lawless defectors without a proper fear of the divine," she joked. "They'd never guess we'd have this conversation."

Not that it would even matter to them, only that we didn't subscribe to their model of morality. "I've found our extras aren't clones nor relatives of our clients, but I suppose that doesn't help our case."

"Not good news in the least to elevate potential mistake to potential malpractice."

"I'm hoping to find that it isn't the case."

There weren't many prospective leads.

The main square of the metropolis had the infrastructural development of a city, but the personality of a small town where faces recognized one another and drew no suspicion of crime. One finger eventually pointed to a friend's relative's neighbor or so forth. Nor could one reasonably shake a fist at a bad actor beyond the atmosphere. Additionally, the biosciences subfacility, with a virology lab sequestered inside, was under greater scrutiny than others in the building.

René thought he exhausted his options when he checked the reports of the process and had no choice than to request security to review surveillance footage. That he could contentedly leave for another day.

At his workstation, the base-pairs from an embryo and René himself, as a reference, were sent to Cogito from the terminal. The pre-child's eyes were blue, and René's own: green, was a nonmatch at face value, but left enough room for potential scandal. As data compiled, the differences between him and the embryo grew beyond that of nonrelatives.

A mutant? René furrowed his brow at the screen. He could save his own skin when the time came for internal investigations. But the implausible results hinted the same programs he used for previous genetic analysis were faulty.

After a second run of the same program on the same data set. The results were now different from the last.

"Nondeterministic computing," he scoffed.

He stood to leave his workstation terminal, before turning and looking at it with suspicion.

Home computer.

Analysis would take far longer, but already indoor lighting outshone that from the setting star. It wouldn't be long until he'll be asked to leave the premises. René closed the connection to the mainframe, copied his data to a portable drive, and left the room.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter