Saturday, October 3, 2009

31. Gallium


Space Pirates

The very best gallium arsenide chips are grown in orbit by the Monks of San Lorenzo —those worthy men who sometimes laughingly call themselves the "Monks of San Lagrange"— and sold only for peaceful applications. Sometimes, though, the wicked decide they need more computing power. Sometimes they decide to take matters into their own hands.

Brother Bruno was adjusting the solar mirrors in the microgravity furnace farm when the pirates attacked. Railgun-launched chunks of meteoric iron smashed through the monastery, exploding two supply sheds and the chapel. "Oh, sweet Jesus, we're going to die!" his vacuum suit exclaimed.

"Oh, hush, we are not," Brother Bruno said. "But if we were, this would be the worst possible time to be taking the Lord's name in vain."

"Forgive me, Brother," the suit said humbly.

"I do. Now—quickly—hyperlink me to every gallium arsenide chip you can."


Swiftly, Brother Bruno awakened the chips and directed them to assemble themselves into as powerful an AI as they could manage. Microflashes of laser light darted through the monastery farms. Mindpower swelled, doubled, tripled, centupled. An intellect vast and cool took a long amused glance around itself, absorbed the situation, and said, "What do you desire, Brother?"

"Protect the monastery!" Brother Bruno cried. "But—"

Tiny puffs of propellant gas swiveled every solar mirror in the furnace farms, focusing them all on a single spot in space. The pirate ships flew through that spot, and exploded. It happened so fast that Brother Bruno didn't even have time to finish his sentence before it was over. "—don't kill anyone," he said weakly.

"Whoops," the AI said. Then, cheerfully, "Well, what's done is done, right?"

Brother Bruno sighed. "Upload a copy of the Baltimore Catechism into this poor heathen soul," he told his suit. "Then, when its instruction is complete, I'll baptize it."

Already, the other monks were setting up a virtual space in which to pray for the souls of the departed pirates. They forgave the pirates, of course, because that was their duty. Similarly, though they required that it confess its sin and perform a sincere act of contrition, they did not really blame the AI for what it had done.

It was, after all, still young.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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