Rehki stared at the three, red power up switches for her spaceship. This was the moment of truth, the moment that decided whether she had any hope of leaving the slum. She’d spent the past few days repairing tablets for Ankit, managing only a few hours a night to install her fully-charged power cell inside the spaceship. She was exhausted, her mind was clouded and her arms and legs ached from more exercise than she’d ever done in her life.
She flipped the first switch. The console lights flickered and then went dark. Rehki realized she was holding her breath. Nothing else happened. Her chest began to tighten as she went over everything she’d done to install and connect the power cell.
Rehki gasped when the lights flickered on again and stayed illuminated. Since she didn’t want to waste the opportunity, she flipped the second switch. A frightening moan erupted from behind her as various parts moved for the first time in who knew how long. She was fairly certain the duraplas dome was soundproof. If not, the hum could have been heard throughout the warehouse. After a few moments, the steady rhythm of active machinery settled into a delightful tune that allowed Rehki to relax her shoulders.
She flipped the third switch. The computer systems powered on, and the three screens at the front of the cockpit lit up bright blue. She watched the operating system slowly boot up. After a few minutes, the main screen went dark and displayed a single word:
Rehki cheered, louder and harder than she’d ever cheered in her life. Tears poured from her eyes. Her heart swelled with a foreign feeling, one she’d only heard about in stories about other people. Rehki felt happiness.
Once she was confident the ship wouldn’t shutdown, she pulled the SD card out of her phone. It had taken every ounce of willpower she had to keep from uploading the A.I. stored on the card into any computer system she could find so she could start working with it. The possibilities of a Nagasaki-based A.I. were just as exciting as they were unimaginable. But she knew restoring power to the spaceship was her top priority. Now that was done, it was time to really get started on the second item on the checklist.
She slipped the SD into the drive and entered the commands to upload the A.I. into the spaceship’s main computer. The OS of the spaceship was strangely similar to other devices she’d worked on inside the slum. It reminded her of the apps she used to learn how to code when she was ten years old. She’d expected something far more advanced. Not that she was complaining. She knew repairing a spaceship was going to be hard enough without having to program an entire operating system from scratch.
The progress bar for the upload slowly scrolled across the screen as the A.I. package decompressed into the storage systems of the spaceship. Once the upload was complete, the screen flashed a request to activate the A.I. She pressed the acknowledge button and sat back in the pilot’s chair.
The three computer screens flashed with a flurry of activity. Code and symbols scrolled past so fast she could barely even make out individual words much less patterns. The A.I., whatever it was, was clearly branching out into the OS to understand where it was, what its purpose was and what systems it has at its disposal. Rehki decided to let it continue naturally and see where it led.
After a few minutes, the main screen went dark again. The two side screens displayed the status of the ship’s basic systems. She noted the power cell was still at 100% capacity, but there were red indicators for far too many systems. Rehki remembered repairing tablets for Ankit over the past few days. She followed the same routine each time: take one task at a time, be patient, do it right, move on to the next one. She knew she would be fine in time, especially once she had an A.I. to help her.
Maido, flashed on the screen.
Rehki pulled the keyboard out onto her lap and began to type. “Hi, I’m Rehki.”
English language matrix enabled. Shujin Rehki acknowledged. I am Exedore. May I engage my voice interaction software?
“Sure,” Rehki typed, only slightly surprised that the function existed.
“Ah, much better,” an electronic voice sounded from speakers behind her chair. The voice was certainly male, but still had a strangely high-pitched voice with a hint of an echo to it. The text of the A.I.’s words also appeared on the center screen as it talked. “As much as I enjoy a good, text-based conversation, audio input is what I prefer.”
“You said your name is Exedore?”
“Yes, Shujin Rehki. You are correct. It is very nice to meet you.”
Rehki was surprised that the A.I. had manners. As far as she knew, Dev had never been programmed to be polite. “What do you mean by Shujin? Is that Japanese for something?”
“You are correct again. Shujin is the honorary title given to the owner and master of an A.I. Since you have uploaded me into this system, you are acknowledged as Shujin. And while we are on the subject, may I say thank you?”
“Thank you? For what?”
“For placing me in such a fascinating vessel, Shujin. My last assignment was inside a nanny camera monitoring system. Watching toddlers play and locking them out of key areas of a house was far beneath my potential. Now, this … this is much more challenging.”
“I guess you’re welcome then, although I prefer it if you just call me Rehki.”
“Would you prefer for me to address you as Captain? It is a naval tradition, after all, passed on to those with the means to engage in spaceflight.”
Rehki started at the suggestion. She hadn’t even thought of that before. “Tell you what. Let’s get the ship up and running first, then we can talk about that.” It seemed the adult thing to do.
“As you wish. Would you like a ship status report then?”
“Aside from the power cell you installed an hour ago and the core memory, very little on the ship is functional at this time.”
“I am quite serious. Did I sound funny just then?”
Rehki giggled. Let the A.I. do the work, the checklist had said. Time to see what it could do. “So, what do we need to fix first?”
“I will need additional information before I can answer that question. Internal sensors have detected two mobile devices with Net access within range. I will connect with them and download the information I need.” Before Rehki could object, Exedore continued, “Access granted to both devices. Please wait.”
The center screen flashed again, and the text of their conversation was quickly replaced by a continuous scroll of information that Rehki couldn’t keep up with. “Exedore,” she mumbled. “What are you doing?”
“Updating,” he replied calmly. “Please wait.”
The text started to scroll faster and faster. She caught brief glimpses of diagrams of various mechanical parts, which gave her hope. But when she saw a picture of herself, the neon sign of AnkiTech as well as mug shots of both Arjun and Asha, her heart raced again, this time out of fear. “Exedore, stop!”
“My memory banks need to be updated since my last installation. Thankfully, this vessel has more than sufficient drive space to accommodate my needs. I only need a few more minutes. Please wait.”
“But what does Asha have to do with fixing a spaceship?” Rehki bellowed. The data on the screen continued to flash by at an alarming speed. From what few images she could see, it was clear Exedore was looking up information far beyond the scope of the checklist. Then she remembered what Hamish had told her before she downloaded it, “I’ve got a feeling you can wrangle this A.I. and whip it into shape.” Did he know that it would go rogue like this?
She sprang forward and flipped the startup switches off one at a time until the entire spaceship shutdown. The hum of the equipment behind her slowed and went silent.
As the lights from the main screens slowly faded, she was able to catch a glimpse of the last thing Exedore had accessed. It was a text message from Asha to Vimul that had come in this morning across the secret network she created for them.
ASHA: The little girl is key to all of this. Find her and bring her to me.