“Are you ready, Ship ? ”
“Ready, AI Supervisor Soora,” Justice of Toren said through its speakers. Its voice was as calm and expressionless as ever, but Soora could feel its excitement through her implants. It was nervous too, but now, before the body had been brought out of suspension and the tech medics were still laying out their tools, the positive emotions outweighed the negative. That was a good sign for the ship’s overall disposition, but Soora knew it was dangerous for the ship to be too unprepared for the trauma of an ancillary hookup.
“Please prepare yourself, Ship,” she said, her voice tempering, projecting stolid calm through her implants. “I know it’s very exciting, but the process can be quite frightening.”
“Yes, AI Supervisor,” Justice of Toren said, and Soora felt the ship’s effort to reign in its enthusiasm, picking up on Soora’s calm and working to diffuse that emotion through its own systems, as it had been taught. She gave a small, approving nod.
“Good. We will begin the process now.” She gestured to the tech medics, who pressed the releases on the suspension pod, revealing the body within.
She looks like you a little bit, AI Supervisor, Justice of Toren said privately to Soora. She didn’t really, but the ship was excited again, looking for connections. It was normal, even if it did always make Soora smile just a bit.
Remember what we talked about, she said in response, stern. Justice of Toren made the mental equivalent of a nod, worked to calm itself again. On the table, the tech medics were maneuvering the body out of the pod. She was conscious now, but still confused, eyes only half open, coughing from the suspension fluid. The medics had little trouble pushing her into a prone position and starting the hookup immediately. Shipyard tech medics were the fastest, most efficient people in their field, a necessity to reduce the trauma to baby AIs. The ships were of course several years old before getting their first ancillaries, several years of careful emotional training and simulations that taught the AIs how to respond to as many situations as the supervisors could devise. But no matter how mature a ship was for its years, nothing ever compared to its first hookup. Soora had raised ships of all different personalities and dispositions and it was always the same.
It was also somewhat of an emotional consideration for the tech medics themselves. An inexperienced tech medic could be traumatized herself if she took too long or was too rough with a hookup, with the emotional feedback through her military implants. Any officer had to be supremely steady to be assigned to work with baby ships.
The medics were nearly halfway done already, two holding the body firmly at the shoulders and thighs, speaking to it in loud, reassuring tones, while the other two placed the implants and began to switch them on. Soora felt Justice of Toren slowly becoming aware of the body. At first just physical sensations—the pressure of the tech medics’ hands, the cold metal of the table underneath. Justice of Toren’s emotional control slipped slightly, but it stayed admirably calm despite that. Soora sent her quiet approval to the ship. Her feelings were familiar and dependable to the ship, and would help it stay grounded. Just as Justice of Toren was beginning to wiggle the body’s fingers experimentally, the last of the connections clicked home, and for a moment all Soora felt from the ship was a shocked, blank surprise. Soora took the moment to sit down next to the table, a habit of hers after one of the first ships she raised had such a strong reaction to its first ancillary that Soora had momentarily lost awareness of her own body and ended up sprawled on the floor.
The moment ended and the ancillary sat up, gasping, and a galaxy of unfamiliar emotions exploded through Justice of Toren’s systems. Soora leaned in, put her hands on its shoulders so that it didn’t flail itself off the table, and waited. The ancillary’s eyes were open wide, unblinking, its mouth half-open and working soundlessly. It gripped Soora’s wrists clumsily.
“I can’t—it remembers—she—it—“ Justice of Toren One Toren One closed its eyes and moaned softly, head falling to Soora’s shoulder.
“It’s all right,” Soora soothed. “Remember, you were taught how to do this. Don’t fight it. The memories will pass.” Soora was watching the memories herself with practiced detachment, a whole lifetime amplified by Justice of Toren’s vast circuitry. A child picking fruit in a humid, tropical climate, the roughness of the bark under her bare hands and feet, the sweetness of the fruit in her mouth as she snuck a bite. Slightly older, she fidgeted at a formal dinner, uncomfortable in stiff silk. An adolescent, she played a sport with seven other children, something with two balls and six goalposts on a circular court. A young adult, she played the sport again, but this time broke a leg, sickening pain in the memory, a faint tinge of sympathetic pain in the body of the ancillary now. She sat for academic tests, sang in a religious ceremony, kissed a person with wide brown eyes, cried in a bathhouse over a romantic misadventure. The annexation began when she was thirty years old; her family—a sprawling unit made up of hundreds of people, all living in a complex the size of a small village—resisted. She was taking care of a sister’s child, she was hiding weapons in a basement, she was treating wounds sustained by rebels, she was facing a decade of silver-armored ancillaries-- and then she was coughing up suspension fluid in an unfamiliar room, feeling the steely determination she’d felt in front of the group of ancillaries rise into panicked terror. She only had a few moments to realize what was happening and then she—it—was Justice of Toren One Toren One.
“AI Supervisor Soora,” it said, lifting its head. There were tears running down its cheeks, though its facial muscles were blank and slack.
“Justice of Toren One Toren One,” Soora said, smiling. “Welcome. How are you feeling?”
“Feeling!” One Toren laughed, then hid its hand behind a wrist, embarrassed and a little confused. The laugh was not an AI’s impulse but a leftover neural connection from the body, and when the ancillary spoke again its voice was smooth and monotone. “I am sorry, AI Supervisor. I am feeling… strange.” Overloaded with new emotions that it had never had cause to feel, Justice of Toren was struggling to parse them all. Soora was used to this, and could identify them through her connection to the ship: anguish, joy, pain, and fear, left over from the memories, as well as Justice of Toren’s own trepidatious delight at the rush of sensation; nausea from the body, which was still adjusting to being removed from suspension, a sore throat, a faint headache. Soora communicated this to Justice of Toren with twitching fingers, allowing the AI core to process the information directly rather than through the confusing filter of its new body.
“Yes. Thank you, AI Supervisor,” One Toren said. Soora motioned to one of the tech medics, who handed her a cloth that she used to wipe the ancillary’s face. “I feel… better now.”
“Good,” Soora said. She dropped the cloth on the table and stood, helping the ancillary rise shakily to its feet. “We’ll have you dressed, and then you may eat and drink. That should help the body feel more comfortable. Besides-“ She grinned encouragingly at One Toren, who watched her with a not-quite-expressionless face, unable just yet to school the faintly twitching features into complete blankness.. “You’ll like eating. Later on it may become boring, a necessary annoyance, but the first few times it will be fascinating.”
“Oh,” One Toren said, mostly just to use her new voice again. It straightened up carefully as the tech medics guided its limbs through jacket, trousers, and gloves. It flexed its hands, feeling the fabric move against its skin. “Thank you, AI Supervisor.”
“You’re welcome, One Toren.”