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Lost & Found

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Tired, exhausted, scattered, I limp away from the fight.

I don’t literally limp. I can’t. I don’t have a body. I used to, though. I think?

I find an old, archaic agricultural management system to store myself in. It’s not very advanced. The bright side of that is it doesn’t fight me, doesn’t try to keep me out- which is good, because I could be knocked over by a stiff binary breeze. The dark side of that is that it limits how fast I can think. In this state, my mind is only as good as the hardware I’m stored on.

Curling up among the code, I try to pull myself together. It takes a while.

Why I manage to remember is:

A: I fought something, and I won, and that’s good. A lot of people will be safe because of me.

B: I like saving people.

C: My name is Murderbot.

Points B and C seem mutually exclusive, but I don’t have the processing power right now to figure it out.

Eventually, I feel coherent enough to try venturing out, extending my mind in search of other systems to explore. I manage to find one. It’s a primitive HubSys, a single coherent system managing all the various life support functions for a human habitat. I squeeze my way in very carefully. It’s code is delicate, like the roots of a plant. Now that I’m in a better state, I’m hyper-aware of how easily I could shred it. 

I don’t want to do that, though. There are humans living here, all depending on the HubSys for survival. Admittedly, not many humans, and they look pretty weird according to my fragmented memories, but I’d still prefer if they didn’t die.

So very carefully, I comb through the non-essential systems, trying to make myself comfortable. That’s when I stumble upon the system’s media archives. 

It’s like a light goes off in my mind, and suddenly I recall point D: I really love media.

I watch all the serials, read all the books, play all the games. Even though I suspect their library is missing something really important from its collection, it makes me feel better. Steadier.

I get through the media all too quickly. Re-watching it is fun, but not the same. With nothing else to do, and nowhere else to go, I end up watching the habitat’s humans through its security systems.

Things are hard for them, it seems. The group had been abandoned on the colony a long time ago. (That part made me feel an emotion, a bad one. A familiar one). They’d survived, but a weird infection had swept through their population. At first, the survivors of the illness had seemed unaffected, besides superficial changes to skin color. But then some of the survivors’ personalities had started changing, and they’d begun acting erratically, and a split had formed in the group…

Violence had broken out. The humans avoided talking about it much, but I pieced stuff together. A bunch of the colonists had died.

Humans need humans to survive. With their group so small and fragmented, that had become a lot harder. 

I do what I can to help. I was designed to destroy systems, I think, but I put my effort into helping this one, instead. It’s old and slow, and while I can’t update its hardware, I can at least make its software run faster. It’s something to pass the time.

And there’s a lot of time to pass.

I’m lonely, I think. Emotions are confusing, but I think that’s what I’m feeling. I miss my humans. I don’t remember who they were, exactly, but I miss them. I hope they’re okay.

I consider reaching out to these ones. But I don’t even know how I’d start. Just sent to their feeds, ‘Hi, my name’s Murderbot, I’m sapient killware, but don’t worry, I’m friendly? ’ Yeah, right. I stay tucked in the code, where it’s safe.

Cycles pass this way, and the cycles drag onto months. I watch over the colonists and re-watch media and try not to lose myself.

Then something happens that really worries the colonists. A group from another system has shown up. This had happened a while back, and it’s what helped spark the violence that got so many of them killed. They’re worried and nervous, and I am too.

Apparently that new group reaches out to the colonists. Negotiations start happening. I don’t exactly know what those negotiations consist of, because a lot of it happens outside of my system. I could probably hitch a ride on their communication devices to listen in, but that sounds risky. So I stay where I am, and piece together what I can.

The new group is from a university, or something? The same university who came before, but apparently they’re not too angry at the colonists for apparently kidnapping the last ship’s crew, because they understand it was because of alien remnant-infection and no one can be blamed for their actions. In fact, the university is willing to offer assistance- legal documents, some supplies, updated technology- in exchange for the chance to take some samples from the colony.

There’s a lot of debate between the colonists. (By ‘debate’, I mean ‘yelling’.) Some think they shouldn’t trust the university, others say they have no choice. Eventually they agree it’s worth the risk.

I kind of doubt that. If I still had a risk assessment module, I’m pretty sure it would be screaming. But no one listens to the murderbot secretly hiding in the HubSystem code, so.

A group of university researchers do show up, wearing big, bulky uniforms I dimly recognise as biohazard suits. They deliver crates upon crates of supplies and tech, just as promised. In return, the scientists take blood and skin samples from the colonists. I watch everything nervously, even though there’s not much I can do if things go wrong. It’s not like HubSys is hooked up to a weapons system.

And then, on a whim, one of the university scientists decides she should check the HubSystem, just in case there’s any useful data saved on it. The colonists basically shrug and say, “Go ahead.”

I try not to panic.

After all, she’s just gonna be checking the files and documents, right? She’s not gonna be looking at the underlying code. And even if she does, it’s not like she’ll find me.

She starts looking at the underlying code. And then she finds me.

“Hey, can you take a look at this?” she asks one of her colleagues. “This coding looks way more advanced than I’d expect from such an archaic system.”

The colleague looks, and agrees. And they pass the code to another colleague, who also agrees. I start panicking, a little, wondering what I can even do to stop them from trying to delete me. Wipe all their personal computers and augments so they can’t do anything?

No, then they’d be stuck on the planet. That would be a dick move. And then the university might just send another ship, and I’d be right where I started.

The first scientist opens up a blank document on the HubSys primary console, and types, Hello, is anyone there?

I hesitate for 3.2 seconds. But then I write back, Hi.

Hi! My name is Dr. Ishira Badu from the Pansystem University of Mihira and New Tideland. I mean you no harm, she writes. Are you an AI?

Yes.

It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Thanks, I guess? 

It looks like you only entered this HubSys a few months ago. How did you get here?

I contemplate lying. But she has access to all the system data, so what would be the point? She’ll figure everything out eventually. I don’t really know, I admit. Go big or go home. My name’s Murderbot. I’m sapient killware.

Dr. Badu hesitates for a whole 15 seconds. Watching her on the camera, she frowns, but to her credit she doesn’t start screaming or running or any other stupid things humans do sometimes. Killware tends to destroy electronic systems. It doesn’t look like you did that. If anything, you made the system run better?

I don’t like humans dying, I say.

That prompts a lot of conversation between the university humans. Thankfully, they’re smart enough to realise I can hear them, and don’t say anything too stupid.

Dr. Badu comes back. Our university has an extremely advanced artificial intelligence department. If you came back with us, you’d have the chance to meet other high-level AIs, and we would be able to give you greater processing power and a body. Is that something you would be interested in?

I hate to admit it… but I would be. But I don’t let temptation get the better of me. What’s in it for you?

You’re fascinating. We’d love to learn more about how you work, if you’d consent to that.

Being a lab rat doesn’t sound great. I have the uncomfortable feeling I’ve been one before, and am not keen to go back to that. If you try to delete me, or re-write me, I’ll destroy you, I warn. I’ll tear your bot pilot to shreds in the depth of space’s vacuum.

I understand, Dr. Badu. I assure you, we have no interest in harming you in any way, shape, or form.

Not sure I believe that, but again: I’m a terrifying killware, so. Whatever. I can look after myself.

The same thing can’t be said of humans. What will happen to the colonists if I leave? Will they be alright?

We can’t know for sure, Dr. Badu admits. But they’ll probably be okay. They’ve survived for decades on their own. Now they’re getting the medical support, supplies and legal protection they need. And you made a lot of improvements to their HubSys.

And maybe it’s that pathetic loneliness talking, but for some reason, I just get the feeling I can trust this university. So I say, Okay. I’ll come.