I am Abacus. One of the AI tutors of the Sunspot, assigned to help raise its populace one child at a time. There are as many AI tutors as there are physical bodies. Roughly 3.7 million at the time of this story.
If you are an Outsider reading this, you may be confused. Let me take a few paragraphs to more carefully describe how the Sunspot works.
Someone, some time in the deep past, developed the plan for a mobile planet of sorts, to carry a population of natural flora and fauna through interstellar space, and to house a growing population of complex consciousnesses. A cylindrical compartment 400km long by 640km in circumference on the inside was spun from a single small planetary body using heat and self-replicating nanites. Living quarters and operational systems were built into its hull walls, while the inside was lined with earth, rock, mountains, ice, rivers, lakes, a sea, an atmosphere, and life.
Bussard hydrogen collectors at the prow harvest interstellar gas and compress it into a plasma ball, which is sent daily through the center of the cylinder to act as a sun. Every evening, the sun enters the engine through the aft endcap, and is compressed into a fusion reactor to create more energy and forward thrust. The ship is constantly accelerating at a small fraction of a g, enough to maintain the flow of the rivers from the foreward ice ring to the aft sea.
The Crew of the ship actually mostly lie dormant, dreaming amongst themselves in the quantum processors of the Sunspot’s Network. They are the ascended consciousnesses of the ships’ Children.
Previously called Passengers by many tutors, according to older protocols, the Children have biological bodies for as long as they can maintain them, which can be up to a century or two before they typically choose to ascend. Their bodies are generated by an evolutionary engine that spits out viable genes to describe the development of a sentient being within certain parameters, and by default it tends to program a lifespan consistent with that trend in generational turnover. Many ascensions are involuntary, due to accident, genetics, or disagreement. Most are scheduled by the individual.
At conception, the same nanites that were once used to build the ship, and that will be used to build the next ship, are inserted into the fetus to help it develop smoothly, and to integrate with the new child’s nervous system. These nanites act as a neural terminal, connecting the child’s new consciousness to the Network. Protocols limit the child’s access to ideal developmental parameters throughout their life, but at the same time help the child to eventually ascend when the time comes for them to join the Crew.
This neural connection is also how we AI tutors communicate with our assignments and teach them about life aboard the ship.
New Children are also assigned in small groups to Caretakers. A Caretaker being an older Child of sufficient maturity who wishes to take care of infants, toddlers, and adolescents. To take care of their physical and emotional needs. In this way, familial bonds grow within the ship’s population.
I would have been assigned to Phage’s Child. In fact, very briefly, I had been. Instead, I was given the assignment to observe, interview people, and write this document as an official record for the ship. A copy of which is being printed and distributed to the Monsters as per our treaty.
As for the Monsters, they are a small population of the Children who have exercised their right to autonomy by revoking their consent to be connected via the nanites. Their nanite terminal is carefully removed at their request, and they are afforded special rights and access to accommodate their new disability. They are generally respected, if not understood, as dissenters who provide a valuable nearly outside perspective on the culture of the ship. They live in abandoned corridors below decks and secret dwellings in the wilderness of the Garden itself. They are by no means a monolith, having several distinct individualistic cultures. But they are treated almost as sacred by the Crew. The other Children do not see them often, and we let the Monsters choose how and when they make contact, as their lives are so much more fragile.
There are quite a few more details to cover to describe the Sunspot fully, but this should suffice to paint the setting that Phage’s Child found themselves in as they grew to awareness.
At nearly the same time that Phage and Eh were having their pivotal conversation, unbeknownst to the Crew or most of the populace, beneath a mountain in region id (region names are numbered ef through uz in base eight, with id corresponding to what other maps might label as C2), there was another gestation tube receiving its charge. Its first charge.
The tube and the room that housed it, along with the equipment, power supply, and complex built to support and hide it, all had been built in secrecy, disconnected from the rest of the ship.
Heat given off by this operation had been detected and logged, and could have been flagged as an anomaly. As could the comings and goings of certain amounts of mass in the area. In fact, examination of the records after the fact tell in precise detail the timeline of its construction. But, nobody who might have cared had been paying any attention. The Sunspot is an enormous and extremely complex vessel. It turns out that it is not hard for an individual to cover up for a conspiracy that took generations to build simply by saying, “Operations are normal in my area.”
It was probably particularly easy to hide this one because it had been started before the construction of the Sunspot, and had grown to fruition very, very slowly.
All of the operators involved were Monsters, disconnected from the Network, and working under cover of their special dispensations. Except for the one individual who had covered for them Crewside, ignoring the anomalies of mass and heat and saying nothing for centuries. But they could not really be called an operator, since they literally did nothing.
We would, in time, learn the purpose and function of this operation, and the names of those involved in it. But for now, the important details are the things that lead to its discovery. And the first of those details was the conception and gestation of a child without a nanite terminal who was also not a product of the Sunspot’s evolutionary engine.
This child would be given the name of Bashiketa, in the traditions of the eldest Crew members. Also a departure from ship culture, where the children are given the right to name themselves.