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Advanced Math

Posted on 08 Oct 2023 @ 3:26pm by Ensign Kat Walker & Ensign Orion Belmont

2,947 words; about a 15 minute read

Mission: Miranda
Location: Flight Deck

The past day or so had been ones that would stand out in his memory for some time, filled as they were with both physical and mental struggles. He had lost count of the number of things that had fallen from leaden fingers, or how many rests against a wall he had had, but he was still alive. For now, at least. If anything the symptoms of whatever this sickness was, this plague, had abated somewhat. The sour yet sweet concoction he had been drinking had helped, alongside dosed out painkillers and nausea controllers, had made it almost possible to pretend to be normal. Whatever normal was anymore. He had thrown up more in the last 24 hours than in his entire life, he was sure, yet it seemed to have stopped now and for that he was thankful. If anything he was merely getting more annoyed, and less inclined to be a proper Starfleet Ensign. As his physical strength had waned his willpower had drained alongside it, leaving him the desire to just find a corner somewhere, drink his problems away and then throw them all up.

It usually solves a lot of illnesses. Or gives me something worse to focus on he told himself, a slow half-smile and half-grimace creeping across his lips. He was sat in his Valk, one leg crooked out and over the side of the cockpit from his makeshift seating on the top of the seat, leaning against the rest of the craft. He could see the entire Flight Deck from where he was and wasn't happy - no flying going on at all. Wasn't the right time.

"What is the right time anyway?" he mused to himself with a touch of bitterness, understanding the reasoning didn't make things feel much better.

"It is four thirty in the morning," came a soft voice from nearby. The four-winged paravian dinosaur avatar of his wingman - 'man' used loosely - landed on the nose of the Valkyrie, in front of Orion. She peered at him curiously. "Though time seems to have little meaning these days, with the majority of the crew down with the disease," she added, her voice calm and quiet. It was still a bit unusual, hearing that voice coming from that creature, seeing its toothy snout forming the sounds.

The sudden appearance truly focused Orion's mind - granted it focused it upon almost falling off of the Valk - his hooked foot under some console being the only thing to keep him elevated. He very carefully, and slowly, internally screamed. Then he realised his heart was pounding is his ears and making his headache worse. Then he slowly pulled himself back into his previous seating position and breathed a sigh of relief. And a quiet prayer to all of the ladies of luck. Once he had calmed he took in the new arrival.

"Say what?" he said, blinking a few times and letting the surprise of the sudden appearance of Kat the Dinosaur subside, along with his heart rate, "Oh...I didn't know it was that early. Damn, I guess hours don't mean much at all right now at all. You know, I know they said you'd see strange things, but I'm not sure getting used to an AI dinosaur projection was in the manual" he remarked with some amusement as he pinched his brow and then settled back again to swig from his most treasured medicine bottle.

"Why do you even keep track of time anyway? You're like...immortal aren't you? Lived way longer than me at least" he asked, the tingling of curiosity rising despite his rotten body.

"I suppose that, given proper periodic maintenance, I am functionally immortal, yes. I keep track of time because I live on a ship where time, duty rosters and on and off shifts are very important," she mused, her small head tilting a bit as she did so. The feathery form shifted, lying down and making comfortable on the ship's hull. "Though, setting aside the question of whether I am alive or not, I do not see myself as having lived way longer than you. I see myself as very young," she added, folding her wings like a cat would their forelegs when settling down in a loaf.

"Quit rubbing it in," he said rubbing the back of his neck to ease the aches, "500 is young to you? How old were the oldest versions of...well your...platform?" he asked, swigging his drink again and blinking a few times to focus on her clearly revelling form, "I suppose not many things really matter to you. From an existing stand point. You can appear as you choose, functionally immortal, only have to deal with concepts of time because those around you have them. Not a care in the world, eh? Not even sure you're alive even...wait, why not alive?"

"I do not know whether I'm alive or not," She paused a moment to gather words. "My thoughts are math, decision trees, flowcharts and algorithms. Artificial. I have no ability to procreate, nor an innate desire to. I was constructed, not born. Perhaps, to some, I am alive as I meet their definitions of what that means, but for myself - it is still a question I struggle with. What does it mean to be alive? Does being alive require the ability to die? I do not age, though I can be destroyed, or shut down," she explained. "I do not believe I'll have an answer to this question any time soon."

"I also do not consider myself five hundred years old," she continued, long tail with pennaceous feathers lazily swaying. "My AI core was constructed five hundred years ago, yes. But for the vast majority of that time I was inactive, damaged and adrift. Only roughly six months ago was I picked up and reactivated. I have no memories of before that time, no files on the time I spent adrift or how I came to be adrift."

"By some definitions, the age of the physical body is used to describe a person's age. In which case I am six years old, as that is the age of the airframe I am built in to," she motioned a wing to her own parked Valkyrie in a bay opposite the fighterdeckm, hooked up to external power. "I present as a twentyfive year old human female, or as a hundred twenty million year old maniraptoriform dinosaur, both of which influence how people respond to me, interact with me. So, how old am I? Six months? Six years? Twentyfive? Five hundred? A hundred twenty million?" The creature smiled now, and how a Microraptor could even smile was a curious sight. "Probably not that last one, but in some aspects I am all the other ages, and yet none of them."

"Oooooh, a headache upon a headache...even if it's an interesting one," he said, rubbing his temples and trying to massage some life into his brain, wondering where to even start, "if you can feel and think surely you are alive. Plenty of people procreate, but don't. Some can't but still are alive. Some really shouldn't, poor children. How are you any different from anyone else, even if you are a microraptor half of the time? I listen3d to a lecture once, from my mother actually, and put me to sleep. But she was quite keen on the brain. What you describe as your mind doesn't seem so different from a human's. Different computer type maybe but still"

"Do you not think that in many respects you are already 'older' than most? It takes someone like me 30 years to learn what I know, then mess it up and then learn it again. Longer, perhaps, for more specialist fields. You can know it in moments. No wonder time has little meaning to you beyond how it is constructed. Time, for you, it would seem, is truly perceptual, no? There is no value to it, when you don't have a ticking clock to remind you. Me? I'll get another 40 years. Sixty if I'm lucky. Maybe more if medicine advances. But every day, every moment...I lose what I have now. To not know that? It must be a blessing. You said you had no memories from before, so how do you know who created you and the rest? You showed me that image from before?"

"We are spreading out into multiple discussions, this is an interesting concept," she replied, still just leisurely loafing on the nose of the Valkyrie, which was still in pieces and only slowly approaching a functional state. "To the first, the ability to think is not necessary for life; single celled organisms do not think, yet they are alive. And I do not know whether or not I feel. All my interactions are algorithms and math. In a way that biological functions are not. I do not get adrenaline, dopamine or other hormones to color my mood as a reaction to events or people. It's math, that I can adjust and modify at will. Though I choose to do so only very rarely, when actually necessary," A slight pause. "Though, it can be argued I do 'miss' - " she sat up to make the air quotes with her talons before settling back in a sphinx-like seated position " - Odin. A fellow AI - for lack of a more accurate description - friend, who was recently lost when the ship became damaged."

"As for the last point, basic knowledge about who created me and what they looked like are hard coded into my hardware, probably as a way to ensure loyalty and offer a template for an avatar that my creators find easy to interact with. It could be argued that that Drul'Anu form I showed you is as much my 'true' form - " the air quotes again, " - as much as the human female avatar I use on this ship, or this Microraptor form. Your theory about how I perceive time is not entirely correct. I do operate on a clock cycle, each flow chart and decision tree at the basis of my decisions and reasoning advances at a single step per clock cycle, though I am capable of five hundred and twelve parallel operations at the same time."

"Five hundred and twelve?" he said slightly weakly, "how slow of you" he murmured, continuing to massage his temples.

"Sorry, I suppose I never did master focusing on one thing. Not really my forte," he said after a few moments of throbbing consideration, "I would say there is a difference between living and existing. Sentience...that's the word. Self-reflection. If you have the ability to re-write then you have that. Most important thing you could say. I would argue that though a single celled organism may fit the definition of life, it does not mean that it is living. Perspective is king. Certainly has been with my life" he snorted, remembering those many times he had seen something different to a commanding officer.

"I am...sorry that this Odin is no longer with us," he said, not prying further as he wasn't sure what to say, it was difficult to think as it was but he tried to be empathetic, he wasn't a bastard, "if she was as you perhaps she will be brought back. As you said, math. But I seem to remember that math is the source of all things. Or, it is a way of interpreting the universe. The code for all things, the constant. If you are pure math then perhaps you are closer to pure existence, to being alive, than I am. Certainly more sensible" he grinned, musing then upon her words on her creators,

"I am only an Evo 3 core. Larger cores existed, with more capacity, to operate larger and more intricate machinery. A Valkyrie is about as much as I can manage in combat situations," Kat explained her 'mere' 512 thread capacity. "Evo 9 cores could operate entire starships, but were also considerably larger and heavier than mine," the being explained. "Odin was very different from me. Where I am a tool, designed by people for a specific purpose, Odin was a living being that somehow became integrated with the ship's systems when we jumped universes. I do not claim to understand the mechanics of this either. When the ship became compromised, she disappeared, and has not reappeared upon the ship being repaired."

"A tool, you say? Perhaps that was the case once, but it would seem - to a Jester admittedly - that if you are math that can rewrite itself then you are more alive than you might think. At least, the potential is there at least. I mean, surely there is a way or programming feedback loops, is that the right term? Algorithms? Ways of simulating these things - dopamine and so on. Honestly I'm not sure us biologicals are much more than machines and codes anyway from the way I heard some at the academy teaching. I know I've been compared to an amoeba more than once," he cracked a smile at that, he felt somewhat like an amoeba at present, not really useful for much, "purpose is an interesting word you use. Perhaps your true purpose, your potential, is something you could decide yourself, rather than something that has to be coded into you by another?"

"That is a difference between purpose and value. By some measures I am lucky to have a design purpose. Most biological beings spend their lives looking for one. As for value - " the creature smiled softly again. Once more, an interesting sight, as the original animal most likely couldn't. " - I hope that some people in this ship consider me a friend - or at least a potential one."

Orion nodded, wondering how it was that Kat managed to get a smile out of the avatar, albeit a terrifyingly twisted one. She wasn't wrong about purpose, he didn't really know his own. He knew he loved flying but he wasn't sure that was a purpose. In many ways Kat was luckier than most. He still remained to be convinced that she was simply a machine though. The more time he spent with her the more he had the sense that she was capable of more than she logically laid out. He tilted his head, wondering exactly how she cared about how others saw her if she were simply maths.

"I'd say that you have one in me at least. The beginning of a friendship, but friendship nonetheless. Do the bonds of friendship mean a lot to you then Deadeye? You want to have many friends by the sounds of it. Is there purely because you wish to have utility, or for something more? Because a tricorder computes and is a tool, but has no desires for anything beyond that. Sounds to me like you do have desires after all, no? And perhaps more. Hope is an emotion after all, at its core, would you not say?"

"I use the words as short-hand," the creature responded readily, sitting up now, alert and energized. "My programming works by weighted values. Actions and responses get a value assigned to them. The more positive the action or response, the higher. Things related to my primary mission, flying combat in defense of Odin and, by extension, the federation, get a very high modifier. Things in aid of that, like making friends among my direct colleagues and being helpful to them, get a reasonably high modifier. Making friends and being helpful to people outside my direct circle of interaction get a low but still positive modifier," the prehistoric bird like being explained.

"My goal whenever active is to achieve a high score, so to say. I choose actions based on their modifiers in pursuit of this goal, as long as they fit within my personality archetype and primary directives. I am incapable of feeling 'friendship' or 'hope' the way you do," she made the airquotes again. Another odd thing to see a Microraptor do. "I find that most biologicals, but humans in particular, are very emotional beings. This is not a negative, as it has served you well, in an evolutionary sense. For me though, I can only simulate those same emotions. Based on our interactions and discussions so far, you carry a rather high modifier."

A small smile graced Orion's lips before he hid it with another swig of his medicinal concoction. He was thankful for her arrival he decided, she had distracted him and captivated him so much that he hadn't even remembered he was ill. He didn't dwell too much on whether that was good or bad - and the implications that some of it might in fact be in his head. He didn't need that whilst staring at a young-old dinosaur. He was, however, very much warmed by her words - as he understood them - of telling him he was a friend. It mattered more than he had thought it turned out. He fancied that, with enough of his own foolishness, not to mention thickheadedness, she may come around to some of his thinking.

"Thanks Deadeye, that means a lot. For once I am glad that I have a reasonably large weight. And I understand what you mean. I think you're capable of more than you think. We'll see together, with appropriately weighted values"

A nod and a half-bow from the creature. "Thank you as well, Jester. I look forward to flying with you."


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