NaNoWriMo 2014, Day Twenty-Nine

The end is near…

At least the NaNoWriMo word total for the month is finally higher than the word count for the “regular” daily posts. (Yeah!?) And I’ll probably make it at least the halfway point of 25,000 words.

While I normally put in a lot of  internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be this year’s thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.

2014-11-29 Word Count Graphic

CHAPTER TEN (continued)

Back inside, Duris doffed her suit and went to her office. She grabbed a cup of coffee before sitting down at her desk and starting to go over the material received from the AI Council and the human commanders in Earth system.

By the time she had slogged through it all, the immediate impulse to just send them a “what in hell are you thinking?” message had faded. She was no less convinced that there was a mistake being made here, but showing off her temper wouldn’t get them to change their minds.

“PEGGY, please make this conversation private until further notice.”

“Yes, Commander Duris, this conversation will be private.”

“Thank you. I need you to help me sort through the logistics problem we have, in order to figure out what’s causing the Earth leaders to be desperate enough to leave the Rhea station with limited backup systems. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it all and seeing all of the links.”

“Of course, Commander Duris.”

“Let’s work backwards. They’re ordering us to send as much durathin as we can possibly spare. That’s so they can stockpile ice and volatiles on Rhea if they’re able to ramp up production to the point where they’re processing more material than can be sent back. The durathin will also cut down on evaporation losses as the ices get closer to the sun, and also will prevent venting that might be enough to overpower the thrust of the ion engine. Correct?”

“Yes, Commander Duris. In that sense it would make sense for the durathin to be sent. It seems to be a key component to the delivery phase of the Rhea project.”

“But we can’t get everything we want, so sending all of that durathin will mean that we won’t be able to leave the station occupied. That violates a pretty basic rule up here in that it leaves the automated processing system with no backup system if something fails. We never want to have a single point of failure system that has no backup, especially when it’s a new and untested system.”

“Yes, Commander Duris.”

“Plus, if they’re that desperate to get the distribution system running with minimal losses, they must be facing some serious shortages down the road. But if the Rhea materials are so critical, wouldn’t it be even more important to make sure that it’s robust? How can this be so critical on the one hand and on the other hand be undertaken with unnecessary risks like this? Something’s not adding up.”

“Perhaps we should look at our assumptions, Commander Duris,” said PEGGY. “Are we sure that the Rhea station will be untenable without the additional raw materials that are being bumped from the flight by the durathin?”

“That’s been our experience, at least on the Mars colonies and here on Ceres. I know you didn’t come out here until later, but CeresOps has been here from the beginning. You can get information from him about the initial manifests and planning for this station, but the gist of it is that we first explored extensively and had a pretty good idea of what to expect when we got here. We had picked out this site for its access to mineable ice, volatiles, and minerals. We had some pretty good estimates on what we would run short of in the first year or two, so we brought that along with us. Copper, manganese, nitrates, trace metals needed to set up electronics manufacturing.”

“I am looking at the calculations now of what the needs would be for various materials in the first two years. It appears that those estimates were based on lessons learned in establishing the first Mars colonies.”

“Correct, PEGGY, those and the first couple of small research outposts on asteroids. The estimates we’re using for Rhea in turn are based on all of those, plus our experience, allowing for advances and changes in our technology in the intervening years.”

“Why are we assuming that an automated system on Rhea will need to have a human station there to ensure its success and continued operations?”

“Because Murphy’s Law followed humankind into space. We’ve talked about this in the past. It’s even worse, since out here little problems can turn into lethal problems much faster and more often than on Earth. In practice, as we see on our stations and our exploration ships, a combination of mechanical and human works best.”

“That is largely because there are limitations to the ability of mechanical and AI systems to manipulate the physical world. Is that correct Commander Duris?”

“Yes, PEGGY. You and your people have some amazing abilities, but when anything happens in the real world, it’s almost always best to have human boots on the ground to build and fix. We’re clever and useful monkeys, even if we are a bit fragile.”

“Just a moment, Commander Duris.” There was a brief pause, something that was unusual in conversations with an AI. “Commander Duris, I have received permission from the AI/Human Council to speak to you of a Top Secret project. This information must not go any further than between us. Is that clear?”

Duris sat up straight in her chair, now fully alert. She had no idea what was going on, but PEGGY had never acted like this before.

“I understand, PEGGY, this will be completely confidential. What’s going on?”

“Commander Duris, there is a new initiative being started which will increase by orders of magnitude the ability of AIs and autonomous system to manipulate the physical environment without the assistance of humans. The Rhea project is to be a first major test case for these technologies.”

“PEGGY, don’t take this the wrong way, but it sounds like the AIs are trying to find a way to replace us. Is that a fair, if knee-jerk, reaction?”

“Yes, Commander Duris, which is why this initiative is so confidential. You may rest assured that the AIs are not trying to replace humans. The situation is quite the opposite. But this is a sort of Doomsday Plan for the AIs, which could allow us to continue to survive if all humans perish.”

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