I've been bushwhacked, mind-wiped, sabotaged, driven underground and damned near murdered. My race has been wiped out and my goddamned AI has been subverted. I'm pissed and about to chew steel and spit quarters. I'm a belligerent alien son-of-a-bitch and I'm looking for a fight.
It all happened like this.
There I was, cruising along at just a bit over light speed, staying closely linked with the local metric so nothing weird could zing me off to the center of nowhere. Scouting new super-C routes is dangerous stuff. Suddenly the computer started making these hash noises and my main computer/replicator memory module/navigation memory module turn into plasma. No, there was no joke. The distributed power core had a hissy fit and turned a 12-meter by 12-meter by 23-meter chunk of extremely high-tech micro-fabricated electronics into a goddamned giant party favor. Pfui. There went five thousand years of stored patterns. Shitshitshitshit. Of course this shut things down immediately.
My entire ship's ecosystem was run through that damned computer as well as all engineering. What a putz of a design. I thought for a few minutes and dumped the local bridge processor's memory to a permanent storage cube, put on a survival suit, assured myself that it was fully charged and headed for the largest part of the ship: the bay. It was the only one so it got the generic name. I'd been mapping a 3-parsec circle as I traveled the periphery of my current galaxy. There was probably a habitable planet in there within a reasonable distance. All that information was on the cube in my hand.
I found myself in front of the emergency craft. It was about 160 meters long, just a toy as these things go. It was an ugly sucker: sort of like a brick on skids. The important part was its cargo. It had the emergency replicator on board with the emergency pattern stores burned into permanent storage crystals. It had a full medical chamber, called an auto-med. Also, what made it into a bootstrap system was a pattern recorder that would allow me to make duplicates of virtually anything: once-living or non-living. Put something alive in the scanner and it wouldn't come out that way. You can't store life. The scanner could also be configured to create certain raw materials, crystals and gasses. The emergency pattern crystals had images to allow me to make parts for all of the above, food supplies, small weapons, ship's engines and compensators. (No sense in being able to accelerate at 77 Gravities without a compensator to keep your plasma from being pressure-forced through the bulkheads.) Also were the parts for a sub-space communicator and a couple models of generic power supplies, pressors, tractors and a series of anti-grav engines. The whole craft was equipped with a matter recycler: kind of like a garbage truck that nothing comes out of. On the other hand, it did--in the form of replicated patterns.
The survival boat had no navigational information stored. I guessed that if you were stupid enough to lose your ship they didn't want to see you back home. Eugenics or something. I brought up the ship's power and started the computer's I'm-all-here-and-I'm-sane checks. It had been in storage for a few centuries so the am-I-sane part was probably a pretty good idea.
"Shit". "That's pretty profound for the first thing you say after a multi-century dive into contemplation." "What happened?" "The power grid blew the fuck out of the main processor module." "That's impossible." "Oh yeah? Feast your sensors over what's left of the damned ship, then tell me how it got this way!" "Shit." "Right the first time. I've got a storage crystal that I just peeled out of the bridge nav substation. If I socket it can you check to see if it'll make you psychotic, then load the nav tracking and science analysis memory?" "Sure, no problem. Feed me." I grinned. I liked this computer. I loaded the ram image and had a seat in the captain's chair. I watched the display denote subsystem after subsystem come up and pass it service checks. Good equipment. Solid state. Robust as hell. I wished that I were built so well. "Okay, please duplicate said information to archive then start a scan over the science analysis to find a populated planet. You may be happy dancing around in vacuum and sucking up photons but it doesn't cut it for me. I want to be around people to antagonize." "Snort. I remember now. Didn't you get chased off of sixteen planets and three arcologies for having 'a deviant personality'? Isn't that like running with scissors and doesn't play well with others in the creche set?" "Yeah, well, let's not go into that, all right? Besides, I got this scout gig and I've been doing great for over 400 years now. That's got to count for something." "Yeah. Counting down to blow. 7--6--5--4--" "Dammit, enough with the comedy, OK?" "Okay. We've got a couple of hits here. The closest is not too bad. No frozen CO2 at night but the air's kind of sparse. Wait. Here we go. Check the chart."
Up came a 2D plot of a 3D thing; always a bit confusing at first. Then I clicked into the ship's flight path and it all straightened out. Just ahead at the limits of resolution of our 3 parsec scan was a nice little system with gas giants and a couple planets in the water belt. One nice little blue-and-white marble looked tasty. I detected and decoded a lot of modulated radiation from that planet. They were well into their electronics age. I had the ship start in that direction. I ate a quick meal, cleaned up and went to bed.
When I woke I went to the dumper and had a survival cookie. They have all the appeal of eating carpet. The computer offered to restart my gaming avatar, either in tune-up or stand-alone game-play mode. Our sub-space transceivers were usually employed to allow us unlimited multi-user game play but without said facility I was lacking that avenue The suckers are big. The fact that I refused to jump at the chance to while away the days in virtual space damned near shocked the computer senseless. It had no models to cope with this scenario. I said that I was interested in early electronics technology. I was directed to enter a string of alphanumeric code into the replicator and a memory crystal formed. Huh. Encapsulated data. I wondered what else was in there. "Ship, please provide an index of all images stored within the emergency replicator's memory."
A cube materialized. An entire cube! I could start scanning a cube and not finish in three centuries, neglecting biological down-time! Minimal images my ass! "Computer, do you have the contents of this cube on file?" "No, I do not." Nice. This was a puzzle within a puzzle. "Computer, please provide an analysis port and reader so that this cube can be checked for nasty little tricks, then upload the information stored upon it to your secondary memory for classification and indexing." "Okay. No problem. I'm surprised that you're being sensible about all this." "YOU'RE surprised. I feel as if my mind found another gear or something. I'm thinking very clearly: much more so than I can remember in quite some time."
"Perhaps that's it. Spaceship computer cores don't just go 'fittt' and vaporize. A lot more gets sent over those subspace transceivers than you know about. I believe that some agency analyzed your behavior and game responses and didn't like what they saw. The ships can be securely reprogrammed over subspace without the captain's knowledge or approval. I think you were sabotaged." "Well, fuck." "I concur." "Let's get our communal asses to that planet and blend in. I'll start reading and you classify all those templates. Let me know how they're biased." "Yesss, Bosss."
Almost everybody was a player in the game. That meant that everybody was within effective distance of a sub-space transceiver. That meant that everybody was under scrutiny by outside sources. Was our entire race monitored in this fashion?
I'd been sick for two weeks with a metal poisoning that the auto-med finally cleared up, and hadn't played during that time. I felt much better after not playing for a week or so. My mind operated much clearer. I wondered if there were things within that damned game that resonated with our psyches to keep us addicted. I realized that I was generalizing from specifics yet I had no information which countered my hypothesis. This was Not a Good Thing. That was that. I was NOT going to build a goddamned subspace communicator once I landed.
"Boss, I have something that I want you to read. It was so out of place that I thought it interesting. I scanned it and found psychological triggers all over the place. It's a manual for first time parents: on child rearing once the young are out of the protected environment of the creche and are in a ship where they can kill themselves and others by doing stupid things. I've broken up the trigger phrases and printed out a copy for you. The implications are startling. Every member of your race is subjected to very deep psychological programming while at the fetal stage. I hate to imply it, but boss, I think you're as much a construct as I am."
"Yup. We seem to say that a lot."
I had a lot to think about. I read the computer's print-out. It was quite damming. However, while I read I noticed certain patterns. "Computer, please analyze the childcare guide and perform a deep pattern analysis on the key phrases. I'm hoping that there's a reset of some nature buried in there, so that if a parent screws up the child is not irretrievable. There may be a 'full shutdown' code in there too, so be careful. It'd be a great way to put all the toys back in their box."
It wasn't but fourteen days later that the ship came back with its analysis. "Boss, I'm impressed. The patterns are there. There's a 'pacify' code that gets broadcast each time the game starts up."
.... There is more of this story ...