2952-04-03 – Tales from the Service: The Computer’s Move 

Captain Hari Moser waited until his subordinates had all filed out of Brighton Blue’s wardroom before moving from his chair at the head of the table. A viewpanel to one side gave a spectacular, if electronically enhanced, view of the binary planet which Blue had taken an orbit around; in normal light the faint haze of a nearby planetary nebula would never have been visible in the background. 

When everyone had left, Hari drummed his fingers on the table. “Bridgit, give me that map again.” 

The holo-display in the center of the wardroom table winked on, and the motes of light representing the nearest few dozen stars appeared. Roughly a third of them glowed with a faint red halo, and the one in the middle pulsed with a steady blue. Several dotted lines joined this central star to some of its red neighbors, each appearing in a different color. 

“Do you need labels, Captain?” Bridgit, the voice of the ship’s main computer, was as patient as always. 

“No.” Hari leaned forward. The local astrography was familiar enough to him that he didn’t need to see the catalog numbers of stars to recognize them. “You have already run the odds?” 

“Several minutes ago, because there was a significant probability that you would ask for them.” Bridgit added a tiny number to each of the dotted lines. “Based on current intel, the enemy force is most likely to be at G9934614, but that’s still only a twenty-nine percent chance.” 

Hari nodded. His orders were simple – Blue and its formation were to probe for the enemy fleet believed to be operating in the area, and to report its strength when encountered. Their orders also said to exploit opportunities to attack exposed targets, but those opportunities seemed rather unlikely; a lone light cruiser supported by three destroyers and a handful of frigates would never be able to stand up to a force of Incarnation warships; they would have their hands full with just one of the big enemy cruisers. 

The problem with searching for the enemy by probabilities and intel was that the enemy would expect him – and the other scout formation commanders – to do just that. He could be ordering his spacers into a trap – or into a misinformation-baited jaunt through a half-dozen empty star systems while the enemy force, un-contacted, set up for a major assault on Sagittarius Gate. 

There would be those among his officers who would be content to go on this fruitless jaunt, of course. Blue had been on more-or-less-continuous Seventh Fleet scouting operations for seven months, and had been in the service yard at Sagittarius Gate only three weeks at the end of a previous stint of eleven months on operation. Most of the officers and crew were showing signs of fatigue, but Hari was more worried about those that weren’t. Those spacers might seem fine, but some of them would crack when the strain became too much, and there was no telling when that would be for each individual. 

“If I may ask, Captain, what is wrong?” 

“Just trying to out-think Nate.” Hari scowled. Bridgit had been something of a talkative computer program ever since he’d been on board, more like the automated concierge software of a civilian liner than the automation system of a vessel of war, but after the last software update she’d gotten particularly nosy. Most likely, some egghead back in the Core had come up with a new psychoanalysis subroutine and waved charts in front of Admiralty clerks’ faces telling them that it would reduce officer stress by some certain figure. It was having something of the opposite effect on him. 

“Why do you need to? This seems like a pretty standard search mission to me.” Bridgit’s programmed likeness appeared in the holo-display at one-tenth size. Like most of the newer ships, the computer could project faint, ghostly holograms at any size anywhere within the crew spaces, but Bridgit’s coding seemed to prefer to show her avatar as a tiny sprite walking around within the ship’s various higher-fidelity displays rather than as a full-sized phantom. 

“They’ll have some idea we’re out here and where we’re coming from. They might be trying to hide, or they might be planning a post-jump bushwhack.” 

This sort of ambush was an incredibly remote prospect, of course; even if the enemy knew where an enemy intruder was coming from and had some idea when it would arrive, it would take ten or twenty ships spread out over a wide volume of space to have a reasonable chance of interception, and those ships would have to be too far apart to be mutually supporting. 

“The information on this map reflects your best chance to outsmart them lies at G9934614.” Bridgit’s tiny image waved a hand up and behind itself to the stars glittering above the table. “Shall I convey the navigation order to the helm?” 

Hari shook his head firmly. “No. If you attempt to pressure me into giving orders again, I will have the techs disable you.” He didn’t know why he was threatening a computer program; Bridgit could learn in a sense, but she wasn’t a person who could feel shame at her mistake, like one of the officers. 

“No pressure was intended Captain.” Bridgit’s tiny likeness saluted sharply. “I cannot convey orders you do not give. Is there any other data I can obtain for you?” 

Hari frowned. Perhaps there was. “Can you process hypothetical scenarios?” 

“I can run simulations, sir. Is that what you mean?” 

“No.” Hari stood up and strode to the viewpanel.  

“Then I don’t understand the question. Perhaps if you attempted the query you have in mind, I could try to process it.” 

Hari cleared his throat. “If you were in charge of an Incarnation fleet and given the objective to deliver a raid in force at Sagittarius Gate with the least possible contact with Confederated scouts before the attack, what star system would you stage out of within this local area?” 

There was a long pause. Finally, Bridgit replied. “The Incarnation does not automate command of its fleet movements, Captain. You are asking me what I would do if, hypothetically, I were a person in that position, and I have no way to simulate or process the demands of personhood, which would be more decisive than any other variable.” 

Hari rolled his eyes. “So, you cannot process the query.” 

“Not as such, sir.” Bridgit sounded apologetic. “Perhaps you meant to ask what would be my choice of staging area if I were to take control of the opposition force in a simulation of our current mission?” 

Hari froze. That was a far better query, of course, but Bridgit should never have been able to guess it from what he’d asked. That leap sounded more like intuition than the normal educated-guess feedback loop that dominated the code of such software. 

Bridgit, after long moments of silence, tried again. “Perhaps you meant-” 

“I heard you.” Hari turned back toward the wardroom table. “And yes, I suppose that is what I meant.” 

“I would choose K7820841.” The doll-sized hologram waved toward the edge of the map, and a dim star blinked brightly. “It is an unexpected play, choosing a staging area so close to the target, far within my warships’ jump range, and it might permit some degree of surprise. Obviously, this is a high-risk play, but high-risk plays are what sim-games are for.” 

Hari nodded. “Thank you.” Bridgit was right – a particularly bold enemy commander could stage out of a dead, planet-less system that was theoretically within Sagittarius Gate’s outer defensive ring, hoping that no scout formations happened to stop by in the few weeks he needed to prepare his attack. As far as he knew, no Confederated ship had gone to K7820841 for several months; why would they? There weren’t even any exploitable metal asteroids there. Provided Nate didn’t need to do any field repairs, though, that was hardly a problem for him. Checking the system would be a matter of a day or less, plenty of time to receive new information from other scouts in case the enemy commander proved more risk-averse than Bridgit. 

“Bridgit, plot a jump to your star. Send orders up to the helm.” Hari knew he was probably crazy to take his next move from the computer. There was probably some very good reason the lonely K-type star would never have worked for the Incarnation attack staging area that Bridgit never would have considered. 

“Aye, Captain.” The computer’s avatar saluted and then vanished, followed shortly thereafter by the map. 

Though the actions of the scouting formations of Seventh Fleet are well covered by the vidcast programs, including our own flagship program, Captain Moser’s account of being led to an unorthodox decision by an unusually active computer assistant is stranger still because Brighton Blue made contact with the enemy precisely where the computer suggested. 

Obviously, the fleet logistics department is making changes to this software all the time; my understanding is that the system is updated drastically every time a ship returns to port. The illusion of intuition that Captain Moser describes here, which unsettled him some at the time and later in retrospect, is probably the result of some new top of the line communication routine; military grade assistant software can already read and interpret both tone and body language, even in recordings.