Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Go Fetch Rover

March 28-Scorpius 2, m0039

The next couple of days are fairly quiet, giving the team a chance to review their various financial and practical positions. Actually, as they're collecting extended-hours and hardship-posting rates, the team have no significant financial problems; Florence (who's getting pretty good money for someone in her effective social situation) sees a chance to establish a secure financial and social position, while Jianwei is saving as he anticipates a year or two's sabbatical when he returns to Earth at the end of this assignment.

Scorpius 3, m0039

And then another call comes in, passing the non-sapient filters to arrive at Jianwei's virtual desk.

"Good morning," the caller says with the calm smoothness of an AI. "My name is Callisto-Capri. I act as local negotiator for the Granadine Partnership. We are a European corporate entity, so I have been advised to contact you about this matter."

"Uh, good morning. What can we help you with?"

"My dog appears to have gone missing. Local law enforcement is proving unwilling to assist very efficiently."

Jianwei blinks a little at that, but patches the other two into the conversation while he asks for more details. (Vajra is performing routine data management for the embassy; Florence is visiting a local school, playing the part of the friendly free European bioroid for the kids.) "How long has your dog been missing?"

"Just over two hours now..."

It does rapidly emerge that "Ferdinand", the dog in question, is a K-10A uplift - if nothing else, the pictures that Callisto-Capri provides show the distinctive slightly expanded skull structure. The team are a little bemused by this problem - and they can certainly imagine how Marshall Kirkowicz will have reacted if Callisto-Capri called her first - but it does seem to be a legitimate worry. The Granadine Partnership, it emerges, is a Europe-wide association of design consultancies which does enough business on Mars (in the form of numerous small contracts) to justify maintaining a presence here. Callisto-Capri handles negotiations, aided by an assortment of non-sapient software, while Ferdinand acts as a porter and "physical representative". It might seem more sensible for Callisto-Capri to rent cybershells as necessary, but Jianwei and Vajra recognise some pretty routine memetic finesse here, especially when they get hold of the company's Web brochure, and perform a quick and cynical analysis. By employing an organic being as part of their team, the Partnership projects an image of sympathy for organic needs and concerns - doubtless essential for a consultancy specialising in ergonomic design issues. On the other hand, Ferdinand was produced locally (with Mars adaptations built in from the embryo stage); he's a cheap organic employee. Florence swears that Dougal is muttering about Ferdinand's job being to look cute and get scratched behind the ears...

 Jianwei is feeling a little unsure about the status of this problem - but then, thinking about the legal situation of uplifts, he mentally classifies this as akin to a missing child case. Well, it might work like that, or a theft... It does seem to merit some attention.

Ferdinand may not be a full citizen by EU law or that of many other jurisdictions active on Mars, but as Granadine's only organic employee on the planet, and an individual with many individual rights under EU law and convention, he does have a small apartment of his own in one of the accommodation blocks scattered around the city - and that was where he was last seen. He apparently left as he would for work that morning, but then dropped out of contact. The team start looking for accessible cameras that might allow his movements to be traced - with only limited success - and Jianwei cross-examines Callisto-Capri about its knowledge of various relevant topics. The AI denies any knowledge of business rivals who might have any likely motive for stealing/kidnapping or attacking Ferdinand - Granadine really aren't in that sort of business. When it comes to questions about the dog's social life and acquaintances, though, it rapidly becomes clear that the AI has a typical low-sapient level of emotional cluelessness. It claims to think of itself as Ferdinand's friend, while not being very sure about his off-duty activities, friendships, or interests.

Anyway, camera records from Ferdinand's apartment block do show him setting out that morning, alone, and a quick cross-check of time stamps suggests that he went off-line at about that time. He has a wearable AI aide, of course, but it's non-sapient; he can probably order it to cut communications with little difficulty. Poking around his financial records, which Callisto-Capri, as his de facto guardian, can access and provide, suggests that his main hobby is participation in a quasi-Neolithic virtual world. In fact, he plays the part of a dire wolf there. So do a lot of humans, mind, and he seems to have some casual friends in his pack; judging by the conversations on the game's associated discussion group, they may or may not know his real-world nature.

A little more poking around accounts and cross-questioning of Callisto-Capri determines that, when the Granadine staff need transport, they hire rovers from a company in the city - and Ferdinand has enough access to company accounts to get hold of one of these. It then turns out that the hire company is based just a couple of blocks from Ferdinand's residence, in the direction in which he seems to have been heading when last sighted.

By now, Florence has made her excuses and slipped out of the classroom, and the team decides to head to the hire company in person. They find another office operated by a LAI - but one which proves quite cooperative, especially given Vajra's skill in interfacing techniques. The company, while not especially dubious, is a relatively cheap, casual sort of outfit, and yes, they rented a light rover to Ferdinand just that morning. After all, he's a known regular customer, and his wearable is certified as a competent driver, so it can have full access to the control systems... But the rover has a locator beacon that can't be turned off, and the LAI is happy to check where it is right now - which proves to be some miles out in the desert, moving but not heading in any particular direction, and not responding to radio calls.

The team look at each other, put one of the hire company's heavy rovers on the consulate account, and set out after the missing dog, as Jianwei installs an uplift-dog psychology skill set on Aunty. They make good progress - Florence is a skilled driver - and find Ferdinand's rover soon enough. It's still not going anywhere in particular, but is chasing round and over various dunes. The team have magnifying optics with them, and are able to make out Ferdinand, alone aboard the other vehicle and looking rather excited.

He sees them, too, and promptly drives straight at them. It seems that he's got his NAI doing exactly what he asks, with neither that nor the vehicle's own systems providing any sort of safety overrides. The team have an exciting few moments, with Ferdinand testing Florence's driving skills in a game that seems too much like chicken, giving them a better view of his expressions; Aunty's conclusion is that he's gone mildly atavistic. Eventually, though, Ferdinand decides that he wants to get away from them; fortunately, both rovers have similar performance, and with better driving skills aboard, the team are able to stay with him.

At this point, Florence decides on a rather dramatic plan to deal with this problem. Having confirmed that the hire company can provide override codes to unlock and open any of the rovers' doors, she leaves the team's vehicle under the control of Samadhi, who seems to be the second-best driver available, opens a side door (ignoring any automated safety system warnings), and clambers up onto the roof of the rover. Then, when the two vehicles are a reasonably stable distance apart, she jumps the gap with elegant precision. Once she's safe on the smaller rover's roof, she tells the automatic systems to open a side door, and somersaults in.

Of course, Ferdinand has seen her coming, and doesn't appear pleased to see her, attempting to slam her out straight away. She deflects the attack and gets the door closed - but then a vulgar brawl ensues in the footwell of the rover, with Ferdinand attempting to sink his teeth into the opponent who he seems to be abusing as an "Uncle Tom". (He also turns out to have some police dog-style training.) After fending him off for a moment, Florence brings her stun glove into play, and even manages to paralyse him at one point - but he shakes off its effect too soon. On his part, he manages to land a bite on her arm, although that's protected by an armoured sleeve, and hangs on until she lands a headbutt on him that makes him let go. Then, she has a thought and grabs at his wearable with her shock glove. This knocks out its electronic systems for long enough that the rover's own computer takes over and slows the vehicle to a halt.

Ferdinand is still fighting, though, and Florence is getting annoyed enough that she resorts to more or less beating him senseless. She's even setting up for a kick with her high-heeled boots when the door opens again; the other two of the team have brought their own rover up to the scene, and Vajra has emerged with a vortex pistol. A well-aimed blast of tranquilliser gas batters Ferdinand down - and more importantly, renders him unconscious.

Florence is left muttering that her martial arts lessons neglected to cover techniques for fighting in the footwell of a moving land vehicle, and resolves to press her sensei about this subject, the next time she gets the chance. As she dusts herself down, Vajra applies cufftape to immobilise Ferdinand, and Jianwei arrives, and - aided by software running on Aunty - makes sure that none of their prisoner's wounds are serious. Then Jianwei and Vajra load him and themselves onto their own rover, Florence takes charge of the smaller vehicle, and they all turn back to Port Lowell.

Jianwei takes the opportunity to carefully cross-examine Ferdinand - who, it rapidly emerges, has not only gone somewhat atavistic, but has absorbed a large dose of the "Animal Reparations" meme. (All the Reparationist literature which he's been downloading recently - including chimp-uplift David Pan's Dominion - would have been a clue.) Along with his attitude to Florence, he dismisses Jianwei as an oppressor and Vajra as a "lick-spittle pawn of the humans". Granadine aren't going to be getting much work out of their employee, and are going to be facing a serious bill for specialist therapy...

And so the team return to the embassy - and the discovery for Florence that the EU psychiatrists who worry for her most have requested full implant sensory records for the day. While Jianwei is prepared to vouch that a flying leap between fast-moving vehicles wasn't really as crazed idea as it might sound - for her - she is going to have to spend a lot of time reassuring them about how she felt about all this.

(Analysis of the logs is also reported to reveal that Dougal was wearing his virtual Stetson and yelling "Ride 'em cowboy" while Florence was on the roof of the rover, and "Yee haa!" when she jumped, followed by "Watch out, you've got me onboard!" on landing. Florence swears she wasn't paying much attention to non-priority items, and didn't notice at the time. The psychiatrists put a note on the "influence over AIs" section of Florence's file.)

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