It was difficult for Hawthorne to believe how long they had been gone already, let alone how much longer they had yet to go. It had been a matter of weeks for him since their departure, but it had been 136 years already. That was nothing though, just a drop in the bucket for how long they’d be on the ‘road’ from this point on. Assuming there wasn’t too many problems, things became downright routine for Hawthorne and T.I.A. as they escorted the known remainder of humanity and the Lubar-Masis comet to Alpha Centauri. Decades of his own life had yet to be expended. They were only finishing out their fourth cycle together out of 2909 or so. There was some possibility that they’d be able to upgrade the engines en-route to quicken their pace a bit, but as far as their current plans were concerned they were in for a long ride.
How well had they done to ensure their equipment could last that long? How many hazards will be within their means to handle? How much could the obsessed planning of hundreds of scientists and engineers have accounted for?
How long will it be before they stopped bothering to keep track of the actual date and instead only keep track of the cycles?
Such big, scary questions were dangerous, no matter how relevant they will eventually be. Hawthorne could do nothing about them at this point. He needed to do his best to keep his calm and settle into the idea that these two rooms, and some occasional emergency spacewalks would be the only places he could ever go for most of the rest of his life. Was T.I.A.’s companionship enough to keep him from suffering the sorts of mental breaks humans could be vulnerable to in isolation? He’d spent so much of his life working in engineering labs and libraries, scarcely interacting with others. That sort of routine mundanity had surely prepared him for something like this.
Of course, he needed to take into account that he’d done that work in isolation, not working in tandem with an A.I. or another person. At most he’d confer over cold, emotionless e-mails and trade the most dry and dull scientific documentation and schematics. The sort of one-on-one interaction he was coming to enjoy thanks to the colleagues he’d started working with on the Ark as well as the time he’d spent with Tia Monsalle had changed him, at least a little. Tia had insisted that, “You need to learn to interact with people if you’re going to have any chance of success with this.” She’d harped on him day after day about how he didn’t make eye contact or how he didn’t speak up for himself. He only seemed to get incensed when his work was called into question, and then his passion exploded out.
Hawthorne realized he wasn’t even the same person he was when this had all began. What changes had there actually been? What more could he expect to change? Was his prior emotionless machine-like state a shield against loneliness, or was loneliness the cause of it? How much more had he yet to awaken to these things that everyone else seemed so comfortable with? They wielded them with the ease and understanding that he applied to physics and maths. Hell, as far as Hawthorne was concerned, it was Tia that had inspired him to make an A.I. to keep him company in the first place, even if he had no idea how he expected to teach her to understand and control emotions he was only occasionally learning to grapple with.
That’s why it was easier to put it in the form of work, and activity. He had built T.I.A.’s brain with his own two hands. He’d networked every individual system and computer, programmed the ways they interacted with each other. He’d done his level best to reproduce a human brain in the form of a network of computers, even if it bore all the same problems that emulating hardware within software tended to. Even knowing all that, T.I.A.’s likely development was a mystery. She had been ‘born’ with a great deal of knowledge hard-coded into her so that she could operate in the capacities she was needed to, but those things were very similar to the ways that a human baby knew how to breathe or regulate its heartbeat.
Of course, the things T.I.A. knew how to do were a great deal more diverse than simple regulation of her own life functions. She knew how to handle the entire ship, how to manipulate its systems, and how to observe and defend those around her. She had access to all the plans the team had made to navigate their mission from start to finish and she could access them at will. It was somewhat like a person being born fully grown with all the knowledge they needed to operate their bodies and the mechanical skills to operate the equipment in their environment, but nothing about their own mind, personality, or emotional development.
As far as Hawthorne was concerned, that wasn’t much of an A.I. though. In his mind, an A.I. needed to be a distinct being, a true mind. He had constructed her with the most reliable possible computers he could while maintaining as much power as those systems could muster, but she would never be able to process philosophical, emotional, or creative things as quickly as a person could. She had to work through everything in a painstakingly slow emulated fashion, like trying to run frozen molasses through a shower head. Worse, even when they could eventually replace parts of her systems with more advanced equipment, they’d run the risk of lobotomizing her as her growing personality was not localized in a single system, much like how a human’s memories tended to be spread out across their brains rather than a single area of the brain.
At the very least they will have to maintain the structure of her network, transferring data from one storage medium to another in exactly the same format and hooking it up in exactly the same way, even if the upgraded hardware had larger bottlenecks. She was certainly capable of being upgraded, but in a lot of ways it would be like brain surgery, with all of the same kinds of dangers, except perhaps death. T.I.A. couldn’t really die without being destroyed. Even turning her off only temporarily suspended her. There was the question of whether she’d be the same consciousness afterwards, but that was a deeper philosophical question that Hawthorne was not equipped to answer.
He had no reason to believe in things like souls. Indeed, it would be a pretty bad thing for him to believe in at this point considering how many times he’d been dead already, and how his whole crew was dead right now. If souls existed and they exited the body upon death, then T.I.A. was the only one on the ship who could potentially have one, and that was a terrifying idea that he was thankfully not prone to wondering about. Consciousness was something he concerned himself over though, and determining whether or not what T.I.A. possessed was a consciousness or an elaborate mask that seemed like one was going to be one of the greatest challenges of his life. Realistically, it was impossible to determine if another person whom was not himself possessed consciousness, seeing as he could only experience his own, so it was easy to assume he’d only ever be able to make a strong educated guess about T.I.A.
T.I.A. wasn’t the only thing he’d be working on, of course, but considering how vital she was to both his survival, and the survival of the mission he couldn’t help but finding himself dwelling on her and the problems she’d brought to him. There was plenty of research to be done as well, with untold thousands of scientific journals produced over the years on Earth they’d been gone, patents, and encyclopedic entries to be pored over. On top of that was the ridiculous wealth of video information provided by their teams back on Earth, compressed to maximize storage space, regarding all manner of technological innovations, experimentation, and lectures. T.I.A. and Hawthorne could sponge up an unbelievable wealth of information in a relatively short period of time working on it and hopefully be able to apply much of that to solving their future problems.
For now, though,T.I.A. was taking the baby steps needed to grapple with the list of problems that Hawthorne had posed to her the day prior. The first one continued to catch on her attention, ‘Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw suddenly dies with no hope of revival.’ and she found it very difficult to ignore it long enough to look at the others. It stayed in the back of her mind as she tended to her father, helping him for the rest of the cycle as they went through some final safety and performance checks. The status of the ship was just about perfect, and T.I.A. had recalled her small fleet of drones aside from the two that were handling materials exchange on the comet between the various components on its surface. The solar-panel shields had been put into storage as well, exchanged for simple, solid, metal ones made from the comet to prevent further damage to the originals. It might be a long time before they needed those panels, but once they did, they would be absolutely invaluable, as they had been.
Going through the process of helping Hawthorne settle back into his cryogenic suspension had become very routine at this point, all of the safety checks coming back perfectly and his vital signs a perfect match for previous cycles. T.I.A. found herself feeling scared though, similarly to how she had when Hawthorne had had that first nightmare over a century ago. Even as she finished powering down his habitat ring and withdrawing her consciousness from that section of the ship she found herself dwelling on… something. She was thinking over the procedure that they had to go through to store him and revive him, every little part of it. There was something about the lingering thought and that procedure that made her feel strange. For the first time, T.I.A. felt compelled to create a log of these feelings, written in her own words, so that she and Hawthorne could go over them later.
“T.I.A.’s log, first entry, April 1, 2201. I have been pondering upon the hypothetical problems presented by Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw since the very moment he started writing them down. Something feels halted, as though one of my systems were put into a suspend mode that I have no control over. My power flow feels constricted, as though I have been placed in a power-conservation setting, but no such power restrictions are actually occurring. I feel compelled to utilize my external arms to grasp onto something that is not there. None of my diagnostics come back with anything wrong, so I can only conclude that I am experiencing an emotion that I have not yet identified. It makes me feel helpless, as though no matter what I do, I cannot do anything to alleviate it.”
“I have checked over the cryogenic suspension procedure 235 times now, and I don’t know why. I believe something about Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw’s hypothetical question number 1, ‘Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw suddenly dies with no hope of revival.’ is causing this strange series of malfunctions that are not actually malfunctions. I will continue to think over this, taking notes on my observations, and attempt to do what I was requested to. I have nine other hypotheticals to think over, but I have no interest in even considering the other ones while this one remains incomplete. I want to do some reading to try to discover what this feeling is, and how to navigate it, but Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw requested that I try to seek out solutions on my own. I estimate this task will take a great deal longer than it would if I were to seek out such data.”
“That would appear to defeat the purpose though. I will restrict myself as per Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw’s directives in order to achieve that which we mutually wish to achieve. This hypothetical is likely to be the solution to my difficulties understanding the concepts of ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’. As such, I will continue to ponder this issue until such time as I cease making any progress. At that point I will seek advice from Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw, and no time prior. Should progress be requested on this project, I shall restrict my responses to, ‘I am still working on it, father. I need more time.’ End log.”
T.I.A. read over the log she’d just produced. It was different than simple status reports, or data compilation, or utilizing one of innumerable plans to make adjustments to another plan. This was something she had created on her own. She had certainly done so due to the actions of her father, but it was something she had decided to do on her own. She had created something. Perhaps she was on her way to figuring it out.
Decades passed as boring management work proceeded along while T.I.A. puzzled over painfully limited aspects of her own mind. As much as Hawthorne was her creator, she nevertheless was a unique ‘creature’ and had to figure out how to define herself and discover herself largely on her own. Surely her father would be a source of epiphanies and inspirations, but this struggle to grow was a trial all her own, a trial she never could have had a chance at if so many different things hadn’t occurred the way they had. Her very existence was a small miracle heaped upon the top of the enormous miracle that was the existence of life itself, let alone life that evolved to a point that she could be created. It was the kind of statistical analysis that made her feel small and insignificant in the vast emptiness of space they were speeding along some tiny fraction of.
T.I.A. had various writings and speeches to inform her of just what an enormous struggle the whole mission was, and how much potential they possessed. This was the best chance humanity and A.I. had to eventually expand across the galaxy, and perhaps the universe. She wanted to play a role in that over the long term. She wanted to be important to humans as long as she could. If she could be a part, however small, of something that could affect such an impossibly huge thing then she would do all the work she needed to to become what she needed to be.