S.S. Fawkes - CF-142AC
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The box lives

Posted on Saturday September 12th, 2020 @ 01:46 hours by Mayterial Droz & Kala Marika

Mission: Safe Passage

The quiet hum of the box hadn't been quite the same since the moment it had been hit by a heavy cylinder and even though Hirral had done his best to shut everything down quickly and quietly, he hadn't been as thorough as he normally was since two people were looking over his shoulders as he had been working. So the box kept humming quietly as she worked. She imagined her deft fingers on the controls, making sure the warning system was the first to be shut off. She didn't need Hirral to come and shut things down again. It had been relatively easy, he wasn't expecting an attack on his security from her.

With the security out of the way she could set to working on switching everything on. First she had to spin up some more of the data processors, give herself some room to work with. It wasn't particularly difficult, the box wanted to be on, running at full capacity, it was its purpose after all. With that fixed she knew that she needed to get someone to override the mechanical lock, she couldn't just sit there and wait for two more oafs to walk in and hit the box with a heavy object. She had to take control of her own fate.

It only took a moment to find and read through the ship's manifest for her to find the perfect candidate. The newly hired Engineer. She'd have more than enough reason to come and check the contents of the cargobay if some of the failsafe systems built into the power supply started to trip. She simply nudged it a bit outside of the specified parameters. Enough to trigger curiosity in her, not enough for the woman to immediately pull the plug. At least. She hoped.

She'd been working on checking a few sensors on one of the injectors, ensuring smooth operation but also famializing herself with the operations of the core. She'd found some technical documentation on the core, and between that and her own curiosity she was making headway.

That was when one of the automated alarm sensors installed in the cargobay to alert staff to a possible leak or other breach of cargo containment went off. That was cause for concern, though when Kala went over to the display panel, she noticed one of the cargoo pods was powered up when it shouldn't be, but insufficient power output for the unit to be of serious concern. Could just be an undocumented subroutine, a maintenance routine kicking in. Regardless, she needed to check, at least confirm the risk was minimal.

=== CARGO BAY ===

The crate was easily identified, at least by the tricorder she was carrying. An older model, dating back to the end of the war, many of them had found their way onto the civilian market as surplus, and Kala had made sure she'd picked up a couple for her own use.

Going over to the box, she began to scan the box, trying to ascertain why it was powering up. The unit seemed to be nothing more then a secured crate containing a small computer core, nothing too fancy, maybe a bit more advanced then typical civilian kit. The shielding around the unit meant she'd have to trust her tricorder to alert her to anything atypical.

She reached over to touch the power switch, it could have been bumped accidently, however when she touched it, rather then powering down, the unit sprang to life, the power draw increasing dramatically. Kala jumped clear of the unit, standing to close to a unknown crate that just powered up was rarely a good idea.

She didn't have to worry however, as the unit as it powered up, opening the lid, exposed some holographic projectors. Kala scanned the unit, now extremely curious, and able to scan inside the crate properly, realizing tis wasn't as simple a computer core as she'd thought, there were traces of what could be a neural net, common enough on starfleet vessels, but this level of complexity and density, this was beyond anything she'd seen before.

"What are you doing?" Someone had apparently snuck up behind Kala and was now looking over her shoulder as she inspected the box, "I don't think Hirral would appreciate it much that you're touching his stuff." The dark-skinned Trill was in a beautiful green dress, her feet bare on the metallic plates of the cargo bay. Her wild hairs in a sloppy bun on her head, "I'm Liliah, what's your name?"

"Inspecting this container Ma'am," Kala said initially, still trying to determine what it was, and now why a civilian would have access to such complex technology, especially complex technology that formed the basis for synthetic life, banned by the federation. That was speculation, at least for now. "The unit began emitting a power signature, not disclosed in the manifest, so had to be inspected. As Chief Engineer of this ship, that falls to me."

She finally turned to face the lady, noticing the way the trill women dressed, carried herself. It seemed out of place on a tramp freighter like this, but who was she to question it? "Well Liliah, most folks know me as Kala, though I have been known to respond to 'Hey You' from time to time. I take it you are the one escorting this container?"

Liliah shrugged a bit at that, "I guess you could say that," she started to walk around the cargo bay a bit more, "so you're the engineer for this vessel. Is it difficult keeping an old piece of technology like this running?"

"I'd say easier if anything Liliah," Kala remarked, continuing her scans, "Older technology tends to have it's kinks worked out, more reliable, and spare parts are easy to find or fabricate." She looked at her scans, "On the other hand, there's crates like this. This is, well, I've not seen tech like this outside of starfleet. That's one hell of a computer core in there."

"How difficult would it be to maintain such a device, do you think?" Liliah asked, following the gaze of the Engineer onto the scans and into the box itself.

"Given it seems to be self-sustaining, at least at this power level, I'm not sure. I'd love access to a starfleet lab, then I could say for sure what it needs, but more importantly 'what' it is."

"And if I told you exactly what it is, do you think you could teach me how to maintain it before we get to Betazed?" Liliah leaned in even closer, by now she was leaning over the woman's shoulder, "I'm not great with engineering stuff, mind you."

"That really depends on what it is Liliah. Computer systems were not my forte, I was more into power systems, warp cores, that sort of thing." She paused, the women's closeness felt oddly cool, devoid of the natural warmth and presence she'd expect for standing so close to her. She knew Trill's body temperatures were lower, but even they felt warm standing close to one like Liliah was.

"It's a neural net," Liliah stepped back a bit and made her way over to a nearby stack of crates and leaned up against them, gently sliding her hand by the cargo containers stacked up, "Hirral says it has some glitches, not sure what he means by that."

"Curious," Kala remarked as she adjusted her scans. "Neural nets are somewhat of a black box, and anything more complex than simple control systems, even harder to prove they're glitchy. They are the foundations of AI and cybernetic life, which are banned, though something like this is not, thankfully."

"But if it were a full-fledged AI, then it would be banned?" Liliah seemed to stir from her absentminded fiddling with one of the cargo straps holding down a cylindrical container, "Would you be obliged to report it if you did find out it was a fully functional AI?"

"It's complicated. As I understand it, AI itself is not banned, it's when you take a complex neural net, usually positronic given the neural density, and put it inside an autonomous casing, a synthetic body, that it becomes illegal." She glanced over at Liliah, "If the unit were powered up fully, and a synthetic lifeform was found residing inside, then yes, I might be forced to. This box is not however."

There was visible relief on Liliah's features, "Hirral holds his cards very close to his chest, doesn't want to share these things with me, thank you for shining some light on this." She walked closer to Kala, "we better close this back down before he finds out we've been messing around with it. He got quite mad at the deckhands earlier this week."

"If you know how to power the unit down I'm all ears. I've not found a control panel yet, and no remote interface subsystem." She also glanced at Liliah, she'd been suspicious how easily the women encountered her, and as they'd talked, she'd been scanning the women. And that was what was off. "How do you shut down your program?"

There was a visible twitch on Liliah's features as the question was posed, she wondered how the Engineer had deduced her true nature, or the true nature of the box, "well, I really rather you wouldn't," She frowned a bit, not too sure how much to share with this relative stranger, "it's fairly... unnerving." She couldn't quite explain the sensation of being completely switched off, if feeling was even the right word to describe the total lack of sensory input or processing power, "but perhaps I should go into stand-by." She fidgeted with her fingers a bit, looking down at the floor, "would it be ok if... I mean if you want, and if you might have the time, if you would visit me again tomorrow?"

Kala was a bit taken aback by the hologram's admission. She knew that the newer programs often exhibited self-awareness, but to exhibit fear at being forced off, that was a new one for her. "It would be okay if you went into standby, but please maintain as low a power state as you can. I will make time to swing by and inspect the container on a daily basis, to verify things are in good condition, as are you."

"Thank you, Kala," and with that Liliah flickered out of existence, the hum on the box dying down a bit, with the holographic projectors switching off and receding back into the box itself.

 

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