(43a) Addendum to (43)

The Crusader Campaign (152-1123)

Kalida's Conversation with Jack

    "You wanted answers," says Jack.  "To what questions?"
    "What are you looking at?"
    "The box is alive.  Well, not the box itself, but what's inside it is.  There's a life form in there.  That's why Mich can't make any sense out of it.  I thought that might be the case, and yes they're using life forms to talk to each other in some strange language.  He can't decrypt it because it's not a code, it's a conversation.  They're not just talking about the things that they're transmitting."
    "How about now that we have one?"
    "They're really alien.  I can't figure out much of it."
    "How are they talking to them?"
    "Because they're kind of electronic.  They've done something to one end of it to be able to talk in, which is what I've looked at, but to do that they've -- there's some control that can feed back, as Mich found out, I gather.  I could...  What I was thinking was I could kind of infect them all, and they would think for themselves and take control of the ship or whatever they wanted.  It would be unpredictable, but I could take out every ship using one of these, because it would spread to every ship that talks to one that already has it."
    "Do they talk through jumpspace?"
    "No, it's straightforward through the communications systems of the ship.  At closer range they can communicate directly with radio."
    "But they can't do anything more than we can with communications."
    "Right.  Essentially it's just unbreakable encryption."
    "And you don't know what would happen if you did this?"
    "No, except that it would really disrupt them.  And that's as long as they are aren't secretly installed on any other ships."
    "True," says Kalida.
    "And that's what I've got.  I kind of specialize in signs of strange life forms and signs of their civilizations.  That's my area.  And don't spread that around too much, please.  Don't spread any of this around too much.  But you wanted answers."
    "So you don't want to tell anybody what you might be able to do?"
    "You can tell them about the effects but not that it's alive, please.  Say it's a computer virus or something.  But you can tell them that I have something, yes, but that I'm not going to answer questions on it."
    "You've also been doing some analyses of your own and confirmed what we've come up with and extended it.  How are you doing that?"
    "When I say that the encryption's unbreakable... it's possible for someone with a particular affinity for strange alien language to kind of get a feel for what is actually being said.  So it might be that I've kind of picked up some of what Santanocheev's forces were saying to each other from the recordings that were made.  Do not spread that around, please."
    "Have you told us everything that you've discovered?"
    "Yes, pretty much.  There's nothing important that's been left out."
    "Anything unimportant."
    "Yes.  Some routine stuff that really is unimportant."
    "Ever seen anything like this before?"
    Jack pauses to consider.  She says, "Not directly.  I've heard hints from the FarSpace Service.  There was one report -- remember, I said this was my specialty -- that might indicate where these originally came from."
    "And that would be...?"
    "I can't remember.  It didn't seem important at the time, and it's not among the records I brought with me.  Now, while we're answering questions -- I've been looking at your records on this ship of all sorts of things and I've filled in some interesting gaps in my own knowledge, in terms of the Ancients and various ancient ruins, and things.  If you ever feel like you have lots of spare time and want to investigate some places that I think might be interesting, give me a month or so advance notice and I can come up with some definitely interesting places to go."
    "I'd say you can work on that in your spare time anytime you have any."
    "OK, I will then.  But that's what I've mostly been doing.  I've been sucking all the information out of your computer that I can and combining it with what I've got.  I've noticed the ship has a real thing about privacy, so I've been doing it in my stateroom.  What happens in a stateroom stays in the stateroom."
    "You could say that."
    Jack looks Kalida in the eye and says, "If you're curious I wouldn't call it alive.  It's not.  It's not a lifeform, but it follows certain rules and is kind of inventive, so it's not self-aware as such.  So I don't think it falls under the latest rulings from Imperial Law.  I don't think it has rights.  I'm pretty sure about that."
    "Is the thing in the box something that has been engineered?"
    "It's been developed from its native form, yes."
    "Over how long?"
    "Generations -- its generations.  It's been worked on for at least 80 years, probably closer to a century or two."
    "By whom?"
    "I don't know.  I would guess the people who are using it, although maybe not.  I don't know."  She continues, "When we do hit Santanocheev's forces, have Robert record the conversations and I'll let you know if anything comes up in there.  And please be vague about what my areas are, what I do.  I really work best when I'm just allowed to get on with it.  I'll tell you most things that are important.  Anything important that will affect you directly in the nearish future, months timescale."
    "How long are you planning on staying with us?"
    Jack laughs, "Technically the way the IFSS works, I can stay here as long as I like, and as long as you're still finding me stuff to put together and taking me interesting places, I have no reason to leave."
    Kalida asks, "Anything else you think I should know, or do you think that covers it all?"
    "It kind of covers most of it."  She thinks for a long while, and says, "I'm pretty good with computers too.  Unless Robert really goes out of his way to hide something specific, I can get to it.  This is a good thing, because it lets me integrate, and I'll tell you if it's important.  My capabilities with the computer are a good thing to keep secret too.  Let Robert think he's the only one that can do anything.  OK, why does he speak a strange language, and why hasn't he learned Galanglic?"
    "He gave it up for Lent."
    Jack roars with laughter.  "OK, that's fair, I'll accept that."
    "He once spoke Galanglic but prefers his new language.  It is much... more civilized.  Much richer.  Luckily this ship also speaks it."
    "Yes," says Jack quietly.  "He's not the only one.  I've seen the written form somewhere else."
    "Try to come up with that.  He's been looking."
    "No, I know a couple of places, but it's going to take some work to put them together.  I'm not sure where some of them are.  The IFSS, we... find lots of things, we just don't always remember..."
    "Where you put them?"
    "Yes," smiles Jack.
    With that, Kalida is out of questions.  She leaves Jack in her stateroom and returns to the lounge.