Friday, April 18, 2014

Chassis Hearts

It is easy to get cranky if you spend more than two weeks working without pause or rest trying to fix errors on a starship. The Helcrinz IV generation ship had been experiencing a failure in the Stasis Field Protection System of module 4 leading to potential genetic flaws in the population. There had been worries that the flaw might extend to the other modules, compromising the entire 40,000 people on board, or even other generation ships as well. I’d hunted down app errors and linkage failures along with the other mechanics at Docking Station McLan before it got out of our range, ending up checking for source code errors in only the best apps on the Module before finding and fixing the error. It had been exhausting and gruelling and I’d expected a break after it.

I hadn’t expected an enquiry.

“Mechanic designate Dar, a transfer native to Earth. Former vehicular mechanic,” the Adjudicator says, circling me in the off-white judgement room. I’ve never been in an Adjudicators office before: it was bare, devoid of seats or tables. Just a door, weak lighting, scanning baffles, and us. I’d been forbidden to do scanning while inside, but apparently left on an honour system that I wouldn’t.

“That is me,” I say, and nothing else.

“You have worked on three docking stations prior to the McLan, with a record that was solid and without fault at any of them. And yet you ended up at the far reaches of the sixth Cluster. Explain.”

I shrug easily. “People have biases. I’ve found less biases the further I go from Earth. And McLan was the furthest Docking Station that was relatively modern.”

The Adjudicator pauses in front of me, studying me. They are human-norm, though thin, with a body that could pass as male or female, both or neither. It’s a common enough choice to make sincetraits are more expensive here and tend to be changed less often than they would be planet-side. “Please remove your projection.”

I hope I don’t scowl, but do so a moment later. Under the human projection of me I’m myself: a cylindrical shape on treads that tapers off to a viewscreen at the top with over a dozen limbs that can come out of my chassis as needed. I use the projection of me – or who I would have been in early adulthood – in public since people prefer to interact with it; the viewscreen is a replica of the projection-face, which I’m not asked to turn off as well.

“You were eight years of age when an accident led to a transfer into a non-human body. One of the first generation of transfers, and one of the few of that generation to be extant.”

Meaning I hadn’t destroyed myself. “That is true.”

“I would like to know how you solved the Helcrinz IV issue.”

“You can read my report. Or even skim the summary.” Nothing. “I began looking at the most stable apps, figuring everyone would overlook them as a source of the error. I found it, fixed it and integrated the revised app with the others and the linkages in six hours. If no one can find a mistake, then I figured it had to be where no one would be looking. At least two other mechanics were working on the same theory; we all have a datapool in the infoweb that everyone submits to so that no one replicates another’s work without need during situations as critical as this one was. I was just the first one to find that error in said app.”

“And how does that make you feel?”

“Pardon?” The Adjudicator raises pale eyebrows. “I was relieved that an entire generation ship wasn’t going to be lost, to say nothing of the lives on board. I believe other mechanics are checking the other modules for the same error; glitches happen, so it could just be that copy or a poor install of it. No one wants to cause a panic over a major protection system failing if we can avoid it.”

“I see. Then I would request, at this time, that you remove your chassis.”

I go still at that. My viewscreen flicks off for a moment. I settle on: “No.”

“And if I were to insist?” the Adjudicator says softly.

“I would respectfully request you peel off your skin, and then muscles, and be seen in that fashion. I have no desire to do so and would request, in turn, to learn the purpose of this enquiry,” I snap.

“It is believed by some that intuition comes from the heart.” The Adjudicator pauses a beat. “A transfer such as yourself has no heart.”

I blink. Blink again. “You’re serious? I worked for two weeks without rest on this and you’re saying – what?”

“I am saying nothing. The mechanic who insisted on an Adjudicator inferred that your solution could be an attempt at integration with the population of this station and thus, perhaps, the failure of others to succeed in this was partially caused by you.”

I twitch, arms itching to extend from my chassis and shake the Adjucator. I hold myself in, barely, move closer quickly, not caring that they jump back a little. “I am a mechanic. I am here to fix things, not to seek glory or cause problems or let anyone die for my own gain! And if you’re going to stand there and argue I have no heart because I am a transfer, I am leaving this room and the station within the hour.”

The Adjudicator smiles tightly. “And if I forbid that?”

“Then I will contact every transfer-rights support group there is and prove to you I can be a heartless bastard by siccing every single one on this station.” I glare at them, waiting to flick on my projection to make it more visible. “I have never done this. I’ve never even considered it before now, so I have no idea what they can accomplish or what would happen but independent mechanical will verify what we did for the module and that I was entirely in order.”

“And then?”

“And then I would be famous and use it to ruin your life because it is nothing I desire to be. Is this showing ‘heart’ enough for you, or do I have to use my projection despite your wishes and make rude gestures as well?”

The Adjudicator actually chuckles at that. “I think not. The mechanic Artegan has been reassigned from this station.”

“But he was –.”

“One of the lead mechanics, yes. You will not be asked to replace him. He was, as I gather you have surmised, looking into the same apps you were. That your lack of a need to sleep meant you found the error first means more lives were undoubtedly saved. Your desire to refuse potential riches is – novel, but in your case perhaps expected.”

“I don’t need wealth. I don’t want wealth. And I shouldn’t profit over others because I have an advantage they don’t. Transfers have enough problems without me ever doing that. Can I go now?”

“You may.” The Adjudicator pauses. “We would rather you did not. This extends beyond me and to station management.”


“You may restore your projection if you desire.”

I do, and gape at the Adjudicator. “After that insult, you want be to stay?”

“While Artegan’s claim was entirely devoid of merit, had it not happened we would have arranged for some other claim to be brought against you. It is done to all station personnel to see how they cope with such stresses and if they put their own desires ahead of their fellow crew or the station proper. Artegan’s behaviour had changed since becoming a lead mechanic: we were in need of a reason to Adjudicate him as well, and this situation worked in that favour, though I protested that it went too far against you.”

“No kidding.”

The Adjudicator grins at that and holds out their hand. “Jaci.”

I hold out mine, extend a limb to fit into it and shake their hand. “Dar. But you knew that.”

“I did.” Jaci lets go. “I asked other mechanics about you, you know. They had a betting pool on whether you’d actually lose your temper or not. The bets leaned to ‘yes’ given the nature of the question.”

“And lack of rest; it’s not the first time I’ve been told I can’t understand something because ‘transfers don’t have hearts’ and the like.” I shrug. “I’ve never gone as far as to threaten anyone with a transfer-rights group before, so I guess that really hit a nerve or two.”

“You have nerves?” Jaci says, keeping their face entirely bland. I just grin and stick my tongue out on reply; I’ve made the projection rather well, after all. It wins a surprised laugh. “Then I am glad it was excised now rather than later.”

I hadn’t considered it like that. I just nod and follow Jaci out of the chamber, heading to my quarters. Rest. Relax. Get back to work later. I almost miss that four mechanics are waiting for me in the quarters until I reach the door; all worked on the datapool, all asking if I’ll stay. They’re the only ones off-shift right one, one says. I stare at them. I manage a nod. Thank them. Twice. Wait until they leave. I never designed my projection to be able to cry; right now I don’t know if that is good or not. I stand in the dark, alone, and don’t feel alone at all. 

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