I rushed into the back of the jet, and put on the Rocket suit. When I got back to the cockpit, I checked the screen I’d been using to read the conversation with the drone.
Nothing had been added. Apparently the AI didn’t feel any pressure to make conversation when it didn’t have anything to say.
I could think of a few people who could stand to learn from its example.
As I sat down again, Haley said, “Raptor got back to me while you were changing. He said he’s going to meet us at the gate.”
“Oh,” I said. “That ought to be interesting.”
I thought about ways to let Haley know exactly what I was planning. One of the first times I’d asked her out, I’d used pitches beyond human hearing. I doubted they’d be beyond the hearing of an AI, if it were listening in.
Assuming it couldn’t see inside, I realized that I ought to use pen and paper. That would be perfect.
A few minutes of searching through the Rocket suit’s utility belt finally turned up a pad of old sticky notes.
I wrote her a message: Bringing AI to Xiniti. Not really going through gate.
She wrote: Do Xiniti know?
I wrote: No. I’ll tell them.
She nodded, and I tried to think of how to tell them without putting us at risk. I wished I knew what weapons the drone had.
After that we sat in our seats, and waited to get near the gate. I spent most of my time watching the drone on the monitor, making sure it wasn’t doing anything to our hull.
More than forty-five minutes later, we were closing in on Earth-Sun Lagrange point four, decelerating toward what would be a speed of nearly nothing when we reached the gate.
The screen that showed my conversation updated with a question from the drone, accompanied by a beep.
“MAY I SUPPLY COORDINATES?”
I wrote, “Sure. I’m not promising I’ll use them.”
It sent them. The League jet had already locked on to the gate’s operation systems. I checked the requested coordinates with the gate. They weren’t interesting at all. The gate noted that they were requested by more than thirty percent of travellers. Probably some kind of hub, I guessed.
Three, huge cylinders hung ahead of us in space. Metal spikes extended from each cylinder, pointing at the other cylinders in the group, but not touching them.
Xiniti ships floated near it. The biggest, a flattened, silvery sphere, was surrounded by many smaller versions of the same ship. Most were around the jet’s size. I guessed they might be fighters, but I couldn’t be sure.
From what I understood, the Xiniti preferred not to be bothered, and wanted ships to use the gate without notifying them. The gate’s AI could manage traffic without help.
One of the screens followed our interactions with the gate. The gate AI sent, “Welcome to Earth/Sun Gate 1, please supply destination coordinates, and do not depart from your current flight path. Your shields make it difficult for other ships to detect you. Remember also to shut off shields before the jump as shields have been known to interact with jump technology.”
I took a deep breath. “Night Cat,” I said, “could you take the shields down please?”
From what I could see of her face through the helmet, she seemed amused at my formality. Her reply of “Aye, aye, Captain,” had a slightly more sarcastic tone than I felt I deserved.
Once the shields came down, I started step two of my plan, such as it was. “Gate Control, Xiniti ship, I’d like to request a scan of my ship. We’ve picked up a drone of unknown origin. It is currently attached to the outer hull of my ship.”
The swarm of small ships near the big Xiniti ship moved as one, spreading out in all directions while a small group flew directly toward us.
They did not, I noted, cut directly across any of the designated lanes for approaching or leaving the gate. The group heading for us split into two, one flying above the plane reserved for gate traffic, and the other below.
At the same time, the question of what languages the drone understood was answered when it let go of the hull.
I hadn’t had the ship translate my speech into its dialect.
In one sense, I felt vindicated that my suspicions had turned out to be true. At the same time, another part of me felt annoyed.
If I realized it earlier, and taken it out without the Xiniti, I might have been able to keep the parts.