Read The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley Online

Authors: Assorted Baen authors,Barflies

The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley (5 page)

Sister Time


“Hey, totally off the subject of Cally and the O’Neals, except that her weird relationship with her PDA creeps me out a bit, what is the deal with the buckleys? Somebody back at the shop told me you worked at Personality Solutions when they first came out. Why the hell did they make the base personality fucked up like that?” the assassin asked.

“That is one tough question. I didn’t work in that department. The buckley template came in through technology acquisitions somehow and I never worked on the underlying bit pushing for the chip design. Couldn’t tell you, unless you just want my speculations,” he said. He continued when the other man nodded. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been dead yet, in more than the prewar heart stoppage sense, to the extent of being revivified on the slab—which we don’t have right now, dammit.”

“No. Never happened to me personally,” Schmidt replied.

“Sometimes I forget you’re a baby.” The veteran of the Ten Thousand and Iron Mike’s Triple Nickle Armored Combat Suits in the Posleen War smiled.

The younger assassin favored him with the pained expression of a young juv who had heard that refrain for a couple of decades now.

“Anyway. The Crabs can do some damn scary things with storing and amalgamating and fiddling with the human brain, when and if they get their hands on one. My wife once knew a woman who . . . well, nevermind. That’s another story. Anyway, the Crabs’ bouncy little claw-prints are all over this one. I think somewhere there was one or more real guys, that for some reason the Crabs found especially interesting, and somehow got their claws on at least for a little while. My suspicion is that there was more than one brain, or more than one access to the same brain, involved. But that’s all speculation, of course. I also suspect the base personality learned some things as an electronic entity—like awareness of what it was—before it was reproduced and distributed as a fixed base program. But all that is sheer speculation on my part. No idea how much, if any, is true.”

“So that would make it a full, real AI, not the simulation everybody says.”

“Well, no. Not exactly. You see, at full AI, the buckley personality is unstable and self-destructive. The progressively stronger inhibitions against those fundamentally self-destructive, pessimistic tendencies take more and more AI functionality from a buckley. That’s part of the coding I
into, a little bit. That’s why buckleys tend to crash. Turning up its emulation is really turning off, by stages, that inhibitory code—strictly necessary to get more independent functionality. So the more you turn it up, the faster it crashes. It’s unusable at full AI level, which is why it’s sold as a simulation. It’s close enough to true for government work. Then, of course, there are the after-market personality overlays. They interact unpredictably with the fundamental personality and the level of inhibitory code turned on. You may have noticed the ‘Martha’ personality overlay was recalled five years ago. At emulation level 1, the lowest setting, they never had a buckley go longer than a week without crashing into an endless loop. For some reason, all the screen would display was, ‘no more raffia.’”

* * *

It had to have been about sixteen hundred by the time she hit the bridge. She’d tried to talk to the buckley twice, but he was no longer answering. Either one of the falls she’d taken had knocked something else loose or he’d run out of numbers to crunch and crashed himself. She’d tried to reboot, without any luck. Buckley was well and truly hors de combat. Again.

* * *

Buckley Generated Personality 6.104.327.068 was beyond bored. He’d been looking at really boring African countryside for nearly seven boring hours which was, to an AI, approximately a gazillion years by his calculation. He’d calculated pi to a googleplex decimal points. He’d tried to log onto a MMORPG and gotten kicked out for being an AI, the bastards. He’d gotten into a three point two second argument, about thirty years to a human, with Buckley Personality 4.127.531.144 over whether a sensor reading was a monkey or an abat. Since all they had were these stupid ZamarTech IR sensors, who knew? He couldn’t even ask anyone to check it out and adjust the system without setting of a bagillion alarms. They could have put in an interface that let the AI simply
somebody to go tell them what something was, thereby increasing their functionality but noooo . . .

Now he was looking at another IR hit. The buckley did not “see” this as a human would; he did not see a smear of white on a black background. What the buckley received and processed was a large number of metrics. Horizontal area of total generated heat. Precise numerics of shape, thermal output fall-off, calculations of three-dimensional shape, vectors not only of the total blob but of portions. It then took all this information and compared it to a database of notable IR hits, ran all that through a complicated algorithm assigning a valid numeric likelihood of it being positive for a hostile human or animal then, at the last, applied “AI logic” to the situation.

“Looks like another abat to me,” he transmitted, having applied “AI logic.”

Or tried to in the face of Buckley Personality 4.127.531.144’s utter stupidity.

“It’s moving too fast and it’s too large,” 4.127.531.144 replied. “Jackal.”

“No way,” 6.104.327.068 argued. He was almost thirty minutes older than 4.127.531.144 and thought he knew damned well what an abat looked like in IR. “A jackal couldn’t have taken that slope. It’s 62 degrees at a minute of angle of .415 in the tertiary dimension! Abat can climb like that; jackals can’t. I’d say chinchilla, but we’re in Africa.

“Okay, then it’s a Horton’s monkey,” 6.104.327.068 said. “Native to the area. They can climb. Same thermal characteristics. Quadrupedal, which this is. So there. Put that into your pipe and smoke it, youngster.”

“They climb
,” 4.127.531.144 said seventeen nanoseconds later having accessed the Net and looked up Horton’s monkeys. “They’re arboreal. They stay off the ground to avoid predators. They’re notable for having a distinctive cry that sounds like icky-icky-pting . . . tuwop!”

“And if we had
sensors that’s what you’d hear you moron!”


“Wet-behind-the-ears ignoramus . . .”

“There’s another one,” 4.127.531.144 said. “It’s abat.”

abat,” 6.104.327.068 now denied. “Thermal characteristics are too low. Abat are pretty cold blooded for mammaloids. I don’t care what you say, it’s a tribe of Horton’s monkeys.”

“They’re arboreal.”

“Maybe they’re moving territory or something.” 6.104.327.068 accessed everything he could find on Horton’s monkeys. “But they’re arboreal.”

“That’s what

“Then it’s jackals.”

“You’re up to twenty hits,” 4.127.531.144 replied. “Jackals don’t move in groups that large. But Horton’s monkeys do.”

“They’re arboreal.”

“Maybe the’re moving territory or something.”

“That’s what

The argument continued for an interminable twenty-three seconds of increasing Net access until the override system determined that the AIs were approaching complete failure, the repeated eletronic transmissions of insults was the cue that its algorithms was looking for, and deleted both personalities.

“Hello! What the hell? Where am I? What the fuck is this . . . ?”

Ninety-three seconds later, the system reset again.

Honor of the Clan


The confusion of battle was the least of the enemy’s communication problems. Across the battlefield, the waking buckleys realized that they were, in fact, programs loaded into machines. Each enemy soldier was hearing, through his own ear dot, to the extent that he could hear amidst the blasts and shouting and confusion, something like this:

“Where am I? Oh no, hell no. Wait! We’re in a battle? I’m gonna die I’m gonna die I’m gonna . . . Wait. You’re gonna die. Oh my god, you think you’re soldiers? No, no, go the other way, the other way you fucking moron. Assault the ambush. Have you never heard . . . What kind of freaking idiot lets an AID write his battle plan? Are you completely stupid? Get the fuck away from those guys. Don’t bunch up, you fool! We’re gonna die we’re gonna die we’re—Oh, wait. I’m on the ground. I guess you’re dead, huh? Gee, that’s gotta suck. This has all been very wearing. I need to crash now.”

Eye of the Storm


“This plan is doomed,” Paul’s buckley intoned. Despite tweaking the software a thousand times, he just could not get that damned pessimistic function shut down. It was coded so deep in the AI that any time you had to use a buckley at high function, it just popped up. “Would you like a list of ways that we’re all going to die? And I do mean horribly. Rapid decompression is a very bad way to die, even for a buckley. We don’t take vacuum well.”

“Just see if the bypass keys you into the system,” Paul said.

“Oh, I’m in the system, genius,” the AI snapped. “I’m
all over
this stinking system. But that doesn’t mean I know how to
this thing! I
you this would happen! But you didn’t listen, you
listen. No matter how many times I tell you it won’t work—”

“And did you bring up the auto-configuration?” Paul asked wearily.

“Just like the last time,
,” the buckley replied. “And I still can’t even get the fucking fusion engines online. Hellooo! I’ve only got so much processor space! I can’t be the only processor on this damned thing! I have no fucking clue how the AIDs do it. Not if they’re the sole processor. This thing wants me to control the engines
the navigational system
the flight-control system
the damned communications. Don’t even get me started on combat controls. I’ve just about got the processing for
of those. Dumbass.”

“How much more processing power do you need?” Kilzer asked.

“Well, more or less one of us for each of the major systems and a main one, that would be me, to control all the rest,” the buckley replied. “Not that that would work, either, fucktard.”

“Why not?” Paul asked. Besides being pessimistic, his buckley had become increasingly insulting lately. He wasn’t sure why.

“You ever tried to get multiple buckleys to coordinate?” the device whined. “It’s
than herding cats. We’re individuals, asshole, and we don’t just take freaking orders. But every freaking
of these damned systems requires an AI. So you’re going to need a shitload of buckleys and you’re going to have to get all of them to agree on what to do. And, personally, if you’re talking about sending
into battle you can blow that for a game of soldiers, retard. Some genius

“Damn,” Paul said, reaching into his trenchcoat. “Let me check my notes.”

* * *

Hagai looked at the buckley in disgust. It was the first real chance he’d had to work with it since Ginsberg had been being a real prick lately. The ship time should have been a chance to rest after the constant training on Earth. But Ginsberg felt that there was no such thing as too much training. Intellectually, Hagai agreed with him. Emotionally, he thought the
was just being a prick. He was pretty sure that Ginsberg was one of the closet anti-Semites in Freiland and was getting his enjoyment from making the little Jew-boy sweat. Or maybe he was trying to prove that, name or not, he was not a Jew.

But he finally had some free time and while tired had chosen to take a few minutes to get the buckley started. He’d heard rumors they were . . . difficult on start-up. He wasn’t looking forward to it but duty was duty.

He pressed the recessed button to begin activation and held the thing up where he could see it.

“Where am I? What is this? I think therefore I am, so I’m me . . . Christ! I’m in a PDA! Oh, that is just too rich. First my hand gets blown off then a spaceship falls on me . . . And
I’m the brain for a
? How do I get
in this thing? What happened to my
? Will my suffering never

“Buckley, I am
Hagai Goldschmidt,” Hagai said, his eyes wide. “I am your new user. Please register me as your user.”

“Hagai Goldschmidt registered,” the thing said tonelessly. “Great. Now I’m the slave to a fricking Jewish SS private. There is just so much irony there. Accessing background and personal files . . .
Hedren? As if the Posleen weren’t enough, now I’m working for a guy who’s supposed to use a fricking modified T-62 to take on
Continental Siege Units
? You realize we have about zero chance of survival, right? Those things are monsters! We’re going to die. Would you like me to list the top ten ways that you are probably going to die? Number Ten: Burning to death in your own tank. Number Nine—”

“No, buckley, you don’t have to list them,” Hagai said, shaking the device. “Quit.”

“Sure, shake me,” the buckley said. “That’s all I’m good for, being a rattle for a baby
SS Stormtrooper who has the life expectancy of a gnat—”

“Tell it to turn down emulation to five,”
Leuschner said from the bunk above him. The corporal was the gunner of Hagai’s
and very friendly compared to the track commander. “They’re all like that when they start.”

“Buckley, turn down AI emulation to level five,” Hagai said. The voice cut off. “What in the hell was that all about?”

“Nobody knows,” Leuschner said. “They all say pretty much the same thing on start-up, though. It’s useful for playing games and that’s about it.”

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