The Gray Bunny (graybunny) wrote,
The Gray Bunny

Wild Blue part 5

"Something to think about once we make camp, Sergeant. There is a larger clearing about a quarter click..." He looked around. "That way. When will we be ready to start shifting supplies?"

Moving was a backbreaking effort. They had two wheeled dollies, but as Ulis had already determined, those weren't much use, the tires sinking into the soft soil. Most of the carrying fell to the science team too, since Clager decreed that they needed a guard at the old camp, and a guard at the new camp, and an unemcumbered guard escorting the carrying party. He thought that probably the only thing keeping the grumbling down was that he personally was helping with the carrying, and not taking the light loads either.

They were all soaked with sweat by the time half the pile had been moved. The light was failing, so Clager called off the move for the night. Ulis had been cheating a bit, organizing the supplies into low walls around a central square while he was guarding them. The commander called Gorne in from the other clearing, and the soldiers finished up the shelter that Ulis had started, stringing cables across the top and then laying plastic across those. When that was finished, they all sat down and enjoyed a meal of emergency rations. Clager drifted over to where Elggren was sitting.

"I know these are supposed to taste terrible, Commander," Elggren said, "but this one at least is delicious."

"Being hungry helps their flavor a lot," Clager replied, nodding. "We'll get tired of them soon enough, but I'm grateful to have them. We have no idea what we can safely eat around here. If anything."

"Well, if we can get some of Sennae's sensors repaired, it can tell us. Otherwise, I guess we'll have to find out the hard way."

Clager looked around, then quietly said, "Doctor, could I have a private word with you?" Elggren got up and the two went to one edge of the clearing, the shelter mostly blocking them from the sight of the others.

"What is it, Commander?"

"I'd like to enlist your assistance in heading off a problem, Doctor. We have a lot of work ahead of us, finding a place to make our home and then building it. It's going to be hard, physical work. And until we know more about this place, we're going to have guards. A guard who can't shoot is useless, so the guards will have to be my men, which means that most of the building is going to fall to your team."

"I'm not sure what you're getting at, Commander."

"I was assigned here because I've run the military side of research projects before. I've helped haul more than one researcher back to their quarters after they worked until they dropped. But the work we need to do here isn't the sort that any of you are used to, and it won't be interesting either. I already heard enough grumbling over the carrying."

"You have a diplomat's touch, Commander, but you're right. We're here to survive, not to do science. I think most of us are practical enough to realize that, but it may take a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I can think of a couple things that might help."

"I was hoping you would," Clager said with a smile.

"First, before we do anything else, we need to do some exploring, right? Take my people along. Maybe not Meyyammai, thought, she might be too rambunctious. The rest should know how to move cautiously and keep quiet when needed, and it will satisfy some of their curiosity."

Clager nodded. "I was planning on including everyone anyway, but that's a good thought. It may take us a while to find a good location, and exploring will get the initial curiosity out of everyone's system. Anything else?"

"Sennae can help with guarding. Even reduced to just visual sensors, it can see better than any of us, especially in the dark, and it doesn't sleep or get distracted. That could free up your men."

"I'd still want one guard who isn't tied up doing anything else, just so we have someone who can respond to an alarm immediately. But if everyone else is building, then it won't look like we're making you do all the hard work and taking the easy jobs instead. I don't expect to get through this without any grumbling at all, but we can't afford an us-and-them split in the group."

Elggren nodded solemnly. "That could kill the lot of us, literally."

"Speaking of the group, I'm never going to get a chance to read those personnel files now. Could you give me a quick briefing so I can avoid the worst mistakes?"

"I can try. Some of it is going to be just my opinion, though."

"Anything may help, Doctor. Start with Meyyammai. She seems like the one who might be most difficult to deal with."

"True. She's a genius, Commander, if you can get her to focus. She's our system analyst, and it's thanks to her ability to look at a bunch of parts and see how they work together that we were able to get the artifact working. Like a lot of geniuses, she's not all that stable. She gets upset and distracted easily. Ulis was a godsend. When he arrived, he figured out how to charm her within a couple of days, and I think she's quite smitten with him. If they become a couple, that might help her a lot."

Clager sighed. "That's another problem that's going to plague us. With only two females out of ten of us, I don't see any way to avoid conflicts."

Elggren gave him an odd look. "Four out of ten."


"There's Meyyammai, and Keren, and privates Toft and Gorne."

Clager returned the odd look. "I don't understand, Doctor."

"They're female, Commander. Really. It's hard for anyone who isn't a lion to tell the difference between a female and a junior male, but I was an assistant professor at the University on Yonesse for several years, and I had to learn quick."

"The students razz you if you make a mistake?"

"That's the least of it. It's funny the first couple of times, but if you don't learn, they lose respect for you and stop listening to you, and then they don't learn."

Clager nodded. "Well, I'll take your word for it. So it's four to six, that's not too bad."

"More like three to six. Female lions normally operate in prides. If those two pick a male, he may get both of them. Or maybe not, under these circumstances it's hard to be sure about anything."

"Too true. Anyway, tell me about Sennae. I've dealt with AIs before, but I've never had one under my command and had to deal with it on a personal level."

"Nobody deals with them on a personal level. They may sound like a person, Commander, but that's just user interface. Software isn't my field, but I've known enough experts in it, and the debate over whether AIs are alive or conscious rages on year after year. One thing everybody agrees on is that even if they are, they are not at all like us. The first AIs evolved from expert system, but unlike expert systems they could be trained to make judgement calls too. They're very good at it, and that's why we use them, but they have no... emotional understanding of what they're doing, if you will. The AI judges are the best example. They're well-known for being fair yet compassionate, but they have no commitment to either. Their builders showed them thousands of examples of fairness and compassion and said, 'This is how we want things to be.' They found some common thread in the examples, so maybe they know the true meaning of fairness better than we do. But if someone told them to be unfair, they'd do that instead without a single protest."

Clager nodded. "That explains a bit about the AI sex dolls..."

Elggren shuddered a bit. "Exactly. They'll learn what you want and give it to you, perfectly, every time, no matter what it is. To them, it's just another problem in multivariable optimization."

"So... what was Sennae's role on the team?"

"Multisensory recorder. Sennae is packed with sensors of all sorts. It recorded everything that was going on while we were working on the artifact, and used its judgement to bring the most significant information to our attention. We wouldn't have gotten so far so quickly without it."

"So being a guard and alarm is right up its alley."

"Right. It has been trained extensively in taking in enormous quantities of information and digging out the important bits quickly. If we can give it a good enough description of what we want it to watch for, nothing will be able to sneak up on us."

Clager was watching the shelter over Elggren's shoulder, and the doctor turned to see what he was looking at. There was an orangish light showing through gaps in the shelter and they heard a couple cheers. The commander tilted his head and the two walked back.

Ulis was sitting in front of a small fire, feeding triangular twigs to it and looking pleased with himself. Meyyammai was leaning on his shoulder, standing, and was still shorter than he was.

"Well done, Sergeant!" Clager said. "How did you do it?"

"Meyyammai's idea, sir. Shorted a battery pack using some wire fine enough to glow red, and got some leaves started burning."

"We don't have too many battery packs, Sergeant."

"Used a rechargeable one, sir, and we have the solar charger. And with any luck, we'll only have to do it this once. Just have to be careful to keep the fire burning, sir."

Clager nodded. "Well done, and to you too, Meyyammai. Someday this will be the only light and heat that we have. Now, time to turn in. We have a lot more moving to do tomorrow, but if we can get it done quickly, we'll have time to explore afterward." Everyone perked up at that, and he appreciated Elggren's advice. "Toft and Gorne, you have first watch. Vankloser and I will take second. Ulis, will you be all right taking third watch by yourself?"

Meyyammai said, "I'll watch with him!" Ulis patted her on the head. "You need your sleep, miss. Don't worry about me. Be all right, sir."

Everyone got up and stretched, and he heard a few groans. The lions -- lionesses -- checked their pistols and headed toward posts on either side of the shelter, while the rest drifted into it. He saw that Elggren was having a quiet conversation with the mink and made his way to them.

"Wazel says he'll help train Sennae for guard duty tomorrow, Commander," the doctor said, and the mink nodded.

"I can help Sennae understand what we want to watch for," Wazel said.

"Very good, Mister Wazel. How long do you think it will take?"

Wazel shrugged. "Ten minutes for a rough job. We don't know enough to get very specific, so it won't take long."

Clager nodded. "All right, we'll do that first thing and let Sennae guard the camp while we're moving. Now, let's get some sleep." The three followed the rest into the cramped shelter and curled into blankets on the not-grass.
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