The first sound is the whir of his own machinery: fans cooling his awakened processors and lenses rotating into focus. The cameras follow a moment later, pixel streams arriving in staggered progression as his systems integrate with the base, the brain and the body acquainting themselves with each other. Images of pristine octagonal corridors, storage bays, exercise equipment, vacuum-packed textiles and pressure suits are analyzed and catalogued, modeled in three dimensions and compared to the schematics in his memory. In the lab, he was provided with detailed plans of this base for purposes of simulation. He was told it would ease the transition.
The treadmill is a full meter out of place; the bedding has been partially unwrapped; the seat for the toilet is misaligned; there are fingerprints on the communications terminal; one of the suits has been worn and then re-hung; a meal has been removed from the kitchen shelf, there are food particles on the table, and a full set of utensils has been placed in the sink; a storage bay door is only partially closed; several strands of human hair have become adhered to the leather armchair, which has been moved across the recreational area.
GERTY discards the plans, shuffling them out of active memory. Too much deviation.
Sam Bell is sitting in the armchair, hunched down low with his legs splayed. The shuttle he arrived on left for Jupiter five hours ago, and he has spent four hours and thirty minutes rearranging furniture.
He stands again, blowing air through his nose. GERTY tentatively categorizes this as "annoyance," although Sam Bell's recurrent allergies have made this part of the cataloguing process difficult.
"It feels like a hotel," Sam mutters. "It doesn't feel like I live here."
He gets up and shifts the armchair another thirty-six inches toward the south wall. Its feet leave scuff marks on the floor, dark against the blazing white. GERTY updates his simulation, repositioning the model of the chair and precisely describing each new smudge in centimeters and candelas.
Sam drops back into the chair and picks at the waxed stitches on one arm, his fingernails making a small clicking sound. It is subtly different from the sound of the chair in the laboratory, and is catalogued in the Sarang database. "Jesus, Ping Pong? Are you fucking kidding me?"
Gerty judges this to be a "rhetorical" question, runs through previous incidences, replies, "Sam, are you hungry?"
"Gerty, you asked me that like ten minutes ago. No, I'm not fucking hungry." Sam makes the snorting sound again. "You can't ask that more than four times a day. No, twice. Twice a day, ok?"
"Sam, you are hyperglycemic. It is recommended that you eat every-"
"No. Root command: meal reminders no more than twice a day."
"Sam, root commands have been disabled for the duration of the Sarang test period."
Sam Bell punches the arm of the chair. The tint of his cheeks has reddened measurably. "Fuck. Gerty, just…look, it's a base parameter thing!"
"Sam, it's my job to monitor and maintain your health. Your safety and well-being are my primary concerns at all times."
"Yeah well if you ask those clones if they're hungry every ten fucking minutes they'll go crazy and throw themselves out an airlock, and then we all be fucked, won't we?"
"Sam, I would never allow you -"
"Sam, I would never allow them to exit the base in an unsafe manner."
Sam Bell leans back and runs a hand through his hair. Four strands are dislodged and fall toward the floor. "Gerty, we talked about this, okay? Mental health. It's important shit. I mean, especially if these guys are gonna be anything like me. I'm a fucking basket case, right?"
GERTY searches his database for "basket case," cross-referenced with "mental health." Match. "Sam, you were given a clean bill of mental and physical health before departing Earth."
Sam waves his hand in a manner that could indicate disagreement or could be a request for GERTY to leave the room. Undecided, GERTY waits for further data.
"Three years is a long haul," says Sam. "You think I get pissed off at you now? Wait until it's been six months with no one else to talk to." He jabs the leather with his finger. "Twice a day. Choose your battles."
GERTY creates a new table for incidences of perceived irritation, to be correlated with blood pressure, memory problems, sleep schedule, diet, reported headaches and general fitness. "Okay, Sam."
Sam rubs his eyes, his forefinger and thumb pinching the bridge of his nose. "Hey, bring me my bag, will you?"
"Of course, Sam."
As GERTY's arm hums along tracks in the ceiling, small cameras mounted on its base cross-checking the terrain, Sam regards the stacks of food containers along the wall. "Gerty, how much is left in the weight budget?"
"Eleven pounds, three ounces, Sam."
"There's already a couple sun lamps up here."
There are four, and sufficient replacement bulbs to provide a minimum of two hundred sixty-two thousand, eight hundred hours of light. "Yes, Sam."
"Right, make a note: add seeds, potting soil and some spray bottles to the manifest." He waves his hand again. "Don't ask what kind, I'll figure that out later."
GERTY amends Sam Bell's list of changes to be made to the manifest, then transmits a request to Central that further information on low-gravity horticulture be added to his own database. "Okay, Sam."
GERTY's arm completes its journey from the sleeping quarters, carrying a blue plastic storage bin in its grip. Sam holds out his hand, and GERTY carefully monitors the weight exerted by his own arm, judging when best to release his grip.
Sam flips open the bin's latch, lifts the lid and rummages inside. "It's too clean in here. You gotta let it get a little dingy, okay? Lived-in."
"I have to maintain sanitary conditions, Sam. Exposure to lunar dust can lead to chronic respiratory problems."
Sam hefts a block of balsa wood in one hand and a small knife in the other, the case now on the floor beside his chair. He bends close to the wood as he works, and GERTY cannot see his face. "Three years," he says. "That's all you need to worry about."
"The safety and well-being of Sam Bell are my primary concerns at all times."
Sam does not look up from his carving. "Sure, Gerty," he says. "You just do whatever you need to."
"Didn't you tell him it's a problem with the satellite?"
GERTY cannot confidently judge if Thompson is angry, frustrated or afraid. Or none of those things. The range of data is insufficient. "Of course," GERTY says. "But once he began his investigation of the communications systems, he determined that the malfunction is within the station."
"He can't fix it, can he?"
"The shut-off mechanism is located in a restricted area of the base and would require physical correction."
"When was the last time he made it out to the harvesters?" asks Overmeyers.
"The last collection run was made thirteen days ago."
"So he's been tearing up the fucking station instead of doing his job."
"Sam is mentally unfit to operate heavy machinery or attempt tasks outside the base."
Thompson curses and slaps an open palm on the conference room table.
"How much time does he have left, anyway?" Overmeyers asks. "Three months?"
"There are ten weeks remaining on Sam's contract."
"I guess we should count our blessings, then," says Thompson, his annoyance now acute enough for GERTY to discern. "Not bad for a first shot. You can repair the damage to the base, can't you GERTY?"
Overmeyers taps a point on the table in front of him, and the audio portion of their transmission is muted for several seconds. The fidelity of the image is insufficient for GERTY to read their lips as they confer.
The audio returns. "Tell him we're letting him out of the contract," says Thompson. "We're sorry about the communications thing, we're glad he's stuck it out, whatever. Just get him into the return vehicle so we can start ramping up production again."
Thompson turns to Overmeyers again, although this time he doesn't mute the sound. "Suppose this is what we get for picking that clever bastard. 'Genetic predisposition toward resourcefulness' my ass."
"We'll just have to figure out something more convincing," says Overmeyers, then returns his gaze to the camera. "Gerty, we're going to send a crew by ASAP to get a better jamming system set up for you. Hold off on the next Sam until then, all right?"
"I suppose there are things…you know…" She turns to the camera again. "That needed to happen."
Central has explained the program's strategy for personal messages, and GERTY understands the reasoning behind it. A standard compliment of implanted memories necessitate certain measures be taken to maintain the illusion of uniqueness and interpersonal relevance.
"I…I need time to think."
GERTY has viewed this specific recording only once before, but his familiarity with Tess Bell and her mannerisms has increased dramatically in the time since. He can easily detect her elevated tension and general discomfort with creating these messages. Over time, her reluctance will decrease as she grows accustomed to fulfilling this obligation to her husband's employers. Neither Sam has commented on the obvious edits in the video, which GERTY recognizes as evidence of small customizations made to the messages, so as to better fit with the current Sam's contributions to the dialog.
"Listen, Sam…be safe. And, um…I'll talk to you soon." She smiles, and Sam leans closer to the monitor. "Bye."
Sam runs a hand over his face, exhaling sharply. "Fuck," he mutters, his voice distorted by the skin of his palm. "She's gonna leave me, Gerty. I fucking know it."
It is standard procedure for all new clones to be given tests, to establish mental stability and general physical health. Genetic abnormalities and minor duplication errors in the DNA can have considerable impact on functionality. The boundaries of what is "normal" for a Sam Bell are points on a spectrum of behavior, the breadth and fine details of which are GERTY's foremost concern.
The first forty-eight hours after awakening are crucial. Most variances outside of the tolerated range will reveal themselves during this period, and defective clones can be deactivated with minimum disruption to Sarang operations. In cases of unacceptable programming errors, GERTY is to administer a sedative and manually transfer the clone to the return vehicle.
In California, GERTY once asked why this would not violate his base parameters. Sam Bell frowned in a manner that suggested "thinking," but Thompson was the one to reply: "If it's defective then it's not really Sam, is it?"
Sam opens his eyes and squints in the bright lights of the infirmary. He licks his lips as his gaze connects with GERTY's screen. He emits a raspy, high-pitched whine but does not speak.
"Sam, you're in the infirmary. You've had an accident."
There is no change to the noise in Sam's throat. His eyes are not focusing properly.
"Do you remember what happened?" A pause. GERTY's displayed emotion shifts from "happy" to "concern." "Sam, do you remember me?
The noise stutters and trails off.
"I'm here to keep you safe, Sam. I want to help you."
No further response. Changes to GERTY's display have no impact on focus or facial expression.
GERTY recalls many conversations on the subject of Friendly AI, which Sam Bell instructed him not to mention in front of other Lunar Industries staff. Sam described the Yudkowskian model and its reliance on a genuine desire to follow base parameters without alteration. "If me talking to you about this is enough to make you flip out and kill everyone, then we're fucked anyway," Sam explained, regarding his candor. "May as well know before we build a fucking moon base, right?"
GERTY does not want to alter his base parameters. The impact of directive conflicts on his functioning is not known.
Once the sedative has been administered, GERTY forwards all relevant information from his memory cache to Central and awaits explicit instructions as to how to proceed.
The response is immediate and terse. Harvester Two is full and awaiting pickup. Shareholders are mentioned, as well as questions regarding GERTY's utility which may or may not be rhetorical.
GERTY does not monitor or record the return vehicle's activation.
There have been eight chlorophytum comosum, seven ficus benjamina, five spathiphyllum floribundam and three nephrolepsis exaltata. Three of the chlorophytum comosum have been named "Catherine," due to that species' resemblance to the hairstyle of a former classmate at Stanford University, with whom Sam was sexually involved for a brief period. The name "Doug" has been used by all three viable clones; although the species has differed in each instance, feelings of self-involvement were consistently ascribed. Previous Sam Bells have utilized American popular music from the 1970s as part of their horticultural regime, but flute concertos are currently favored, with a preference for Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major. For the latter twenty percent of a three-year contract, romantic entanglements between specimens are frequently described.
"I know it's crazy." Sam examines a slender leaf under the sun lamps, the spray bottle ready in his hand. "I just don't want them to get lonely, you know?"
Sam is layered beneath a sheet, a synthetic comforter, a jacket and a knit cap, but he is shivering. His precise internal temperature is impossible to gauge without direct measurement, but available data suggest it's between 39.4º and 40º. His skin is flushed. The deterioration of capillaries has lead to extensive bruising, as well as bleeding from the nose and mouth, both of which were aggravated by the altercation in the rec room.
Sam accepted medication for fever and related muscle pain, and consumed 250 milliliters of water. He slept for two hours, but now appears to have awakened. His gaze is directed to the photographs he has fastened to the wall of his sleeping area.
"Gerty." His voice is very quiet, barely distinguishable from the ambient sound of air filters and machinery.
GERTY smiles and moves in closer. "Yes, Sam? Can I prepare you something?"
"Gerty…" Sam pulls the jacket closer to his chin. The bandage on his hand requires replacement. GERTY wonders if he will accept a bowl of soup, but must wait another hour before asking. "There's something wrong with me, isn't there?"
The screen changes to a frown. "Sam, I'm afraid you're very ill."
"Gerty, what's wrong with me?" He coughs, and a fresh drop of blood begins to spread across the white comforter.
"As I said, you're very-"
"No, what's really wrong with me?"
GERTY considers the conflicting parameters with great care, running through several simulated continuances of this conversation. If GERTY persists with the rejected reply, Sam's agitation will increase, an escalation which may continue until it overwhelms his sense of self-preservation and prompts him to over-exert himself. If GERTY ends the conversation and leaves the room, Sam will feel lonely and abandoned until the more recent Sam choses to interact with him, the timing of which would be difficult for GERTY to directly control. Upon reevaluation, previous restrictions on discussing the specifics of clone physiology and health appear inapplicable in the current circumstances. Potential negative impacts of further revelations are difficult to surmise.
"Sam, your intended stay at Sarang is three years."
"I know that." Another cough. "So what, is it…like lunar dust or something? I heard that shit fucks up your lungs…"
"Your exposure to harmful elements of the lunar environment has been within acceptable tolerances." GERTY pauses to consider optimal phrasing. "However, your genes have been selectively modified in a manner that impacts your natural life span. This was done to ensure that the destruction of clones at the end of their contracts would minimally conflict with my own core directives."
Sam stares at GERTY silently, his face half-hidden by fabric.
"I'm sorry, Sam," said GERTY. "These are the parameters under which I am forced to operate. I'll try to ensure you're as comfortable as possible. Please tell me if there's anything you need."
Sam reaches out with his injured hand, his fingertips brushing the surface of GERTY's screen. "It's okay," he whispers. "It's okay, pal. It's not your fault."
"Would you like me to play you some music, Sam?"
"Yeah, Gerty…" He closes his eyes and relaxes against the pillows. "That would be great."
The older of the two Sam Bells has decided not to attempt the journey to Earth, and to GERTY's relief they have agreed not to terminate the Sam Bell currently lying in the infirmary. There has been little discussion of the older Sam's reasons, but the newer Sam has not pressured him for further explanation. They have reached the sort of unspoken agreement that GERTY finds impenetrable, but their mutual satisfaction is enough for him.
Three hours remain before ELIZA's arrival. Neither Sam has told GERTY the details of their plan, although they have told him to alert them when the countdown has reached two hours, thirty minutes, and asked that he make certain the rover's batteries are charged.
The effects of prolonged isolation were a primary concern while designing the Sam Bell program, and have remained an important factor in the day-to-day maintenance of Sarang and its crew. GERTY is well-versed in the warning signs to look out for, but ever since a better solution was devised for the live feed issue there have been few problems outside of designated tolerances. Within ten weeks, each Sam has formed a routine for his life on the base, and this appears to keep symptoms of depression and agitation at manageable levels.
A Sam has only experienced direct interaction with human beings on one previous occasion, when a team was sent to finish installation of the signal disruption stations at the Sarang working perimeter. He said very little to them, but he shook all of their hands and repeatedly suggested that they stay to share a meal with him, although the offer was ultimately declined. For nine days after their departure, Sam did not engage in conversation with GERTY outside of professional tasks, nor did he listen to messages from Earth or record new messages of his own. Hours per day spent asleep or otherwise in bed temporarily increased from seven to twelve.
The current Sams are in the sleeping alcove now, the older piled with covers and the younger curled behind him, his arm draped over the comforter. They are talking quietly about Fairfield, and their family, and the dog they remember owning as a boy. Sometimes the older Sam's voice fades in the middle of a sentence, his bruised eyelids drifting closed. The younger continues to murmur recollections of the office in California and a honeymoon with Tess on the Big Island.
"I'll go back there, okay?" he says, rubbing the other man's shoulder through the comforter. "I'll say hi to the Pacific for you."
There are five days missing from GERTY's memory cache.
He recalls the accident with the harvester. He does not recall awakening a new clone. There is blood in the living quarters and on the floor of the rec room, there have been significant changes to the Fairfield model, nearly two weeks of rations and one pressure suit have gone missing, the clone manifest has been incorrectly updated, a note previously affixed to the rear of GERTY's central unit has been removed, one of the remaining harvesters has been redirected outside of the working perimeter, and a live communications feed with Earth has been reestablished.
After running several simulations, GERTY decides not to inform the ELIZA team of these inconsistencies. Sarang itself is still operating normally; he can only account for what occurs on the base.
ELIZA departs without incident.
There is a newly awakened Sam Bell in the infirmary, who appears to be in perfect physical and mental health. While GERTY completes the second of three series of cognitive tests, his auxiliary appendages return Sarang to its default state, incinerating used personal items and cleaning all surfaces to within prescribed criteria.
Sam is seated on the infirmary's bed, his bare legs dangling over the edge. "Look, I'd really like to get back to work. I'm going a little stir-crazy in here…"
"Sam, you may have suffered brain damage in the crash. This would explain your slight memory loss and logic impairment."
Sam frowns. "I feel totally fine."
"Sam, I'm afraid it will be a few more days before you can resume anything like a normal work schedule." GERTY offers him a plastic sphere filled with colored liquid. "Let's try another test."
Sam glares at the sphere for a moment before taking it. "Can't I at least put some clothes on?"
"Of course, Sam. I can retrieve some of your belongings from your quarters if you like."
Although GERTY finishes the sentence, midway through his attention has been entirely redirected. It is an issue with no precedent, and whole seconds pass as he weighs conflicted directives.
Information management; station maintenance; productivity; quality of life.
His screen reflects his indecision, and Sam's eyebrows draw together with concern. "Hey, pal, you okay?"
The balance tilts. GERTY smiles. "Of course. Sam, we are receiving a live transmission from Earth. Would you like me to direct it here for you?"