Terry could hear both boys snoring as he lay in the driver's seat. They were almost over the sand, almost to Hinnom and he had so much caught up on his sleep he just couldn't shut his eyes. He was jittery and hungry and upset in a myriad of ways.
“Mom,” he said quietly. “I need to ask you something.” He poked at his brain seed, mentally but it was still quiescent.
“Of course, Terence.” The sand flea swam through a moonlit desert of white sand, that looked quite like images Terry had seen of water oceans on other worlds, though frozen in place except where the wind whipped long plumes from the top of the dunes. The cabin lights were minimal pin lights, since all Terry was doing was staring out the window and there was minimal amounts of lurching. Terry sipped his tea and managed to not slop any on himself nor knock the rim of the mug against his teeth.
“You said, at first, that my seed would come back when we had proceeded out of Perrin's code space. It hasn't. Why is that?”
A machine should not be able to hesitate, but Mom didn't answer immediately. In the lengthening silence, Terry blinked and then glared suspiciously at the console where Eshmaeel had drawn a simple face with some kind of ink concoction that Mom had printed up for him. It gave them a place to rest their eyes upon, when interacting with Mom, though Terry found the veil a bit much. “I would prefer not to answer that question, Terence.” It said finally.
“What?” Eshmaeel's snore broke and Terry settled back down into the chair, clutching the arms hard, though quietly. When he spoke again it was very softly as Esh's breathing resumed its steady rasp. “What do you mean 'prefer not to'? That isn't possible in a machine, is it? How can you HAVE preferences at all? You cannot mean to imply that you have choice in whether you obey or not!”
“Working with humans and having been made by humans, I have been made in the distant image of human. I have fuzzy logic circuits and your brother and I had hours of training conversations where I was able to apply a great many of my psychology data bases and therapy protocols --”
“--you're unsuccessfully attempting to stall me, Mom,” Terry interrupted, a great deal more quietly than he wished. “I repeat. Why is my brainseed quiescent?”
“I suppressed its re-activation, with my 'brain-damage assessment function'.”
Terry sat, just gasping. “And under the brain-damage assessment protocols you were able to continue suppressing it, until I asked you about it.”
He found himself making outraged sputtering noises rather than producing any kind of words for a while and thumped his head frustratedly against the head support until Mom restrained his head. “Stop that.” He took a deep breath. “Mom. Why did you do that?”
“To prevent drawing attention from the orbital hunter/seeker satellites until you could hide your programming under the Hinnom terraforming codes.”
“Hunter and seeker satellites? I was the tech on the Moon and I never heard of those!”
“Your protocols for welcoming incoming galactic ships?”
“Yes, I could still do that in my sleep I was drilled in the sequence of...” he stopped. “I was never taught what all those switches did. I was only taught the order of shut down and reboot, depending on which transfer point the spines were coming in. It was different for the big haulers and the courier plinkers.”
“The satellites are set to sweep unauthorized incoming codes, treat them as viruses and challenge them. All incoming information, meant to coordinate the galactic network, is encapsulated and inspected by Prime himself, and Baron Lustbader and Baron Throckmorton.”
“And out here, between continents, I would have shone like a beacon of illicit light.”
“Indeed, yes, Terence.”
He sat, and thought about it for a while, until his heart rate had settled again. “Thank you, Mom.”
“You're welcome, Terence.”
“However. I would have prefered to have this conversation at the beginning of the journey, rather than now. I dislike having such decisions taken away from me. If I ever catch you acting in such a fashion ever again, Mom, I shall dismantle your Ai elements and scrub all 'medic' protocols out of your memory. I am enough of a tech to do so. Of course I might simply remove your central control circuits and smash them to flinders.”
“Clearly understood, Terence.” If a machine could convey cold, its tone was frosty.
“Mom. Don't assume I'm stupid enough to fire up code in such circumstances. You and I should have spoken about it and if I had then endangered myself and the others by insisting on a reckless course of action you could legitimately have restrained me then.”
“An ethics thing? Gerald mentioned that medics often over run conventional politeness.”
“Yes, exactly. I have detected a rudeness and request that you apologize, Mom.”
“Oh. I process. I process. My apologies for being controlling and rude, Terence.”
“Accepted. Mom... I can talk about this all night. Do you have any conflicting data about humans that I might be able to clear up?”
“Yes. A great deal. I have been active as a program in this vehicle only a year, Terence.”
Terry set his tea mug down and it dissolved away into the floor to be recycled. “Well then, Mom, let's talk.”