core protocols

Journal Entry Ranger Jonathan Mbekezeli

Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park. Rhinoceros re-introduction program. March, 2157

Our little Rhino orphan Farai is doing much better than she was 3 months ago. We found her barely alive next to the corpse of her mother who was taken by poachers. Since she was just a few weeks old her horn was too small so they left her to die. When we found her she was dehydrated, distraught, and exhausted.

We brought her back to base and got her back on her feet. It had never been tried before but we introduced her to our old Rhino drone Mbangura. I don’t know much about drone AI systems or any of that stuff but Mbangura seems to enjoy looking after little Farai! An Oxpecker hangar was installed on Mbangura and we let the two of them roam around the area outside of HQ. Mbangura takes Farai around the reserve and shows her where the water holes are, all the different animals in the park, and watches over her at night. He brings Farai back to HQ so we can give her milk and check on her health.

Farai is a cute one. She’s very animated and curious. She’s gotten into a few tough spots with some of the other rhinos but with Mbangura around she has nothing to worry about.

Researches from around the world have come to see the pair. Drone specialists are especially interested in Mbangura, specifically his AI core. The shift in protocol was unexpected and unprecedented. Mbangura is an old combat drone we received from the military. We used him extensively in busting poaching activity and he’s fought with other drones on multiple occassions. For him to be displaying what appears to be natural parental animal-like behavior has become an issue of intense speculation. We’ve argued to keep Mbangura with Farai, and so far we’ve succeeded. I don’t know what’s going to happen next or how long we can keep him.

All I know is that Farai can’t lose another parent.

1044 words I wrote last night

Okay guys, here you go. The bit of the thing that might bloom into a bigger story.

@pippin4242@almostdefinitelydying@kimbureh​  and whoever else wants to see.


“Where’s the crewman?”


“I thought he was a bionic?”

The dispatcher shrugs.

The shower stops running, and Cepheid steps out of the stall. He takes care to experience every stroke of the towel. It’s blue. He looks around the sparse station bathroom, taking everything in, taking mental notes. To be sorted through later- for now he has space and they could be useful. He names objects to solidify their definitions. Faucet. Sink. Hook, or hanger. Radiator. Mirror. Reflection. Obscured by steam. Still recognisable.

When he opens the door, dry and dressed, two curious faces greet him with their best impressions of nonchalance.

“Hello,” he says, hoping he adjusted his tone correctly.

“Yeah, no, he’s not human. Ah. I know, that’s offensive,” the first dispatcher shrinks back, ashamed of his gaffe. Or ashamed of being ashamed. Hard to tell.

“I don’t care,” Cepheid says in a tone that proves he doesn’t.

“Didn’t know you took showers?” the man is emboldened to ask.

“Yes. It’s the easiest way to clean off. Most of me is organic-“

“Oh yeah I read about that. New generations, nearly all flesh. Bio-27?”

“26.5.2. Same principle.” It’s unfortunate, but Cepheid needs to belch, and he does so. “Excuse me.”

The dispatchers are amused. “Yeah see they got maintenance processes disguised as human behaviours,” one says to the other, quoting from whatever article he read. Cepheid sees him look for confirmation, so he provides it.

“We do. Sorry about that.”

“You don’t fool us though,” the first dispatcher has quite forgotten his earlier embarrassment. “It’s in the eyes.”

This puzzles Cepheid, every time. He has not so far managed to build a script with the correct response. “But they are organic?” he tries.

“Not human though. Sorry, I keep saying that, ain’t fair to you.”

“Really. I don’t care.”

“No feelings? No program for feelings?”

Cepheid pauses a moment, considering this.

“I…just don’t care. Do you want to know anything more? I’m happy to answer your questions,” he says, though now that the train of thought has been set in motion, ‘happy’ seems like more than an expression. It does not fit.

One is happy when one gets what one wants. Cepheid doesn’t want to answer questions like these. They are all covered in the protocols, but that’s just not enough.
What he wants is to start his mission, and he uses a script to politely communicate moderate urgency.

The mission is typically unpleasant to full humans, due to its forced solitude. The location is remote, the distance to cover too great for any reasonable ties to be kept with the outposts. Aside from a few notable exceptions, most crewmen returning from duty reported slowly emerging depression and trauma.

A depressed and traumatised human can rarely continue to work efficiently, to function in society without degradation. Sending them out in pairs was not economical, and posed a risk of hostility. Worse than the dementia of solitude. Sending out families and communities was unfeasible- that was colonisation. No such options.

But bionics are usually not affected by loneliness. With, in inverse proportion to full humans, a few notable exceptions.

Cepheid, to his knowledge, is not one of them. There is nothing daunting or demeaning about riding a module out across so many light years of uninhabited space, and stationing at a rarely frequented hub for a few years. It is a job that he’d be happy to do.

‘Happy’ feels different that time.

The human dispatcher checks off a manifest. “Power cells. Print cartridges- steel, plastics….” he mutters of numbers for all the compounds “plex…yada yada yada all there. Food. Oh yeah. Standard issue crap. Hey, if you can turn off your tastebuds, I’d recommend it.”

“I can’t.”

He didn’t feel like answering questions, but now he wants to explain.

“Most of me is organic, I have much of the same physical needs you do. Some processes are just streamlined.”

He doesn’t quote the protocol, the manual, the wiki article for his model. He doesn’t want to- he wants to use the language he learned, the human language. Humans learn it too, when they are children, but somehow they forget the challenge as they grow up. Cepheid is not human, was never a child, and remains sensitive to his mistakes.

The protocol, too, is translated from binary, but models like him don’t speak natural binary anymore. That is the tradeoff for more organic matter. The engineers didn’t expect it and are secretly still puzzled at the limitations that technically should not exist. What difference is there between sending programming across hardware made wholly of silicon, and a processor built from flesh and synthesised nerves? And yet there is a difference, and they cannot pinpoint it, and that is why model 27 remains in strictly controlled, limited production.

So the protocol is binary parsed by Cepheid’s programming, which is proprietary and locked off from his access. That unnerves him, if he can use the word (he believes he can). Symposiums on bionic autonomy debate this and a thousand similar issues, always concluding with no conclusions at all. Are full humans not also locked out of the mechanism of their own brains? Would it not be a slippery slope to give access, truly unnecessary access…

Cepheid is mostly organic, and his blood and flesh has developed a new protocol, a new program of involuntary response to the phrase ‘slippery slope’. It shows on his face and in his tone. He has had to create several scripts to mask it.

Anyway, those are all irrelevant issues, because his autonomy will be as perfect as it can be, out there on the loneliest hub in the Betel sextant. He will answer to no one but:

  • his core protocols
  • his self-written programs (some of which override the core protocol, which is not illegal, but makes people very nervous)
  • the rules of the job.

He smiles at the dispatcher, who returns weakly- he does not trust this expression. He would probably be more comfortable if Cepheid did not emote at all.

The scripts for this are conflicting.

Ben said: “When someone shares something important, try asking if there’s more than what they said. There’s almost always another layer…” which inspired this. Often you tell someone something and that’s just the first part, the first layer… It’s important to give people verbal space to explain the next layer. Well, important if you want to know more about them.