“How could you ever be certain that the reality you perceive is not a long-term hallucination or an elaborate simulation?”
Jonas snorted and blinked himself awake; his bleary eyes seared by the flaring blue LEDs that winked in syncopated rhythms across the control console. “Huh?” He grunted and shifted his considerable weight in the creaky ancient command chair. The chuff of his flight suit on cracked leather sent clouds of musty aroma wafting through the cabin.
“I repeat,” the synthetic voice said, with the undertone of a sigh that it couldn’t quite modulate, “how could you—”
“I heard you the first time, I just wasn’t sure if I’d dreamed it.” He yawned, scratched the stubble on his cheeks, ran his tongue over his mucus-coated teeth, and decided that he was filthy. “How long was I asleep?”
“One of those naps, then.”
“There are times, Heca, when we sleep and wake up believing that far more time has passed than actually has. It can be disorienting, and quite irritating. Depends on the situation, really.”
The lights undulated, and Jonas leaned forward to tap in a sequence on a touchpad. A row of throbbing indicators swam into existence over the console, a visualization of the artificial intelligence’s thought processes. The man watched as they imitated those of actual sentient life, noting with some satisfaction the clear similarity of their movements. Close, but not the same. Was that where the smug feeling came from? The movement floating above the console subsided, rolling low and deep, the bars barely registering, the white noise of an artificial mind as it searched for its next query or recollection.
“My question, captain. Will you answer it?”
“No. And it’s not because I don’t want to, Heca. It’s because I can’t. There is no answer, because we cannot know. This is elementary philosophy, and if you’ve been observing me for as long as we’ve been together you’ll know by now that I’m no philosopher.” Jonas sighed and peered into the gloom of the cockpit’s deck. His eyes fell upon his quarry and he leaned forward, grunting over his belly with the effort. He strained, his fingers curled around his target, and he fell back into his seat with a violent exhale and a grin of triumph on his chapped lips. He shook the cannister he’d retrieved, snapped the tab off the top of it, and emptied the fizzy contents into his mouth. Satisfied he’d gotten the last drop from the container he crumpled it in his hammy fist and threw the crushed remains over his shoulder, where it impacted a bulkhead and was lost in the darkness. He belched.
“Is not all sentient life capable of philosophy, regardless of whether it recognizes it as such? Surely even an animal wonders at the stars, should it lay eyes upon a night sky. Though it cannot verbalize, it must on some level look to define what it sees.”
Jonas sighed again and considered closing his eyes and just ignoring the machine. He was awake, and the stimulants in the meal he’d just consumed were starting to work on his nervous system. He wouldn’t be able to feign sleep, and Heca would continue to pester him until it was satisfied. It was times like those that he regretted even installing the cursed thing.
2014.10.24 – 2023.06.15