The Murderbot Diaries: Rogue Protocol
Tor.com Novella, August 2018
Cover art by Jaime Jones, cover design by Christine Foltzer.
Locus Award Finalist
This is a 160 page novella, part of Tor.com's novella line.
SciFi's favorite crabby A.I. is again on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah's SecUnit is.
And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.
Martha Wells' Rogue Protocol is the third in the Murderbot Diaries series, starring a human-like android who keeps getting sucked back into adventure after adventure, though it just wants to be left alone, away from humanity and small talk.
Read Rogue Protocol and find out why Hugo Award winner Ann Leckie wrote, "I love Murderbot!"
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I have the worst luck with bot-driven transports.
The first one had let me stow away in exchange for my collection of media files, with no ulterior motives, and had been so focused on its function that there had been hardly more communication between us than you'd have with a hauler bot. For the duration of the trip I had been alone with my media storage, just the way I like it. It had spoiled me into thinking all bot transports would be like that.
Then there was Asshole Research Transport. ART's official designation was deep space research vessel. At various points in our relationship, ART had threatened to kill me, watched my favorite shows with me, given me a body configuration change, provided excellent tactical support, talked me into pretending to be an augmented human security consultant, saved my clients' lives, and had cleaned up after me when I had to murder some humans. (They were bad humans.) I really missed ART.
Then there was this transport.
It was also bot-driven, no crew, but it carried passengers, mostly minimum to moderately skilled tech workers, human and augmented human, traveling to and from transit stations on temporary work contracts. This was not an ideal situation for me, but it was the only transport going in the right direction.
Like bot-transports that were not ART, it communicated in images and had allowed me onboard in exchange for a copy of my stored media. Because the manifest was in the transport's feed and so available to the other passengers, I asked it to list me for the duration of the voyage in case anybody checked. There was a field in the passenger form for occupation and in a moment of weakness, I told it I was a security consultant.
Transport decided that meant it could use me as onboard security and started alerting me to problems among the passengers. I was an idiot and started responding. No, I don't know why, either. Maybe because it was what I was constructed to do and it must be written into the DNA that controls my organic parts. (There needs to be an error code that means "I received your request but decided to ignore you.")
Initially, it had been pretty easy. ("If you bother her again I will break every individual bone in your hand and arm. It will take about an hour.") Then it had gotten more complicated as even the passengers who liked each other started to get into fights. I spent a lot of time (valuable time I could have been viewing/reading my saved entertainment media) arbitrating arguments I didn't give a shit about.
Now it was the last cycle of the trip, all of us somehow having managed to survive, and I was heading into the mess compartment to break up yet another fight between idiot humans.
Transport didn't have drones, but it did have a limited range of security cameras, so I knew the positions of everybody in the galley/mess area before the door slid open. I strode across the room, through the maze of shouting humans and overturned tables and chairs, and stepped between the two combatants. One had picked up a food utensil as a weapon and in one careful non-finger-ripping-off twist I had it, instead.
You would think the person they knew as a security consultant slamming in and disarming one of them would cause everyone to stop and reassess their priorities in this situation, but oh, you would be wrong. They staggered back, still screaming profanity at each other. The others in the room switched from shouting profanity at the combatants to shouting at me, all trying to tell me different versions of what had happened. I yelled, "Shut up!"
(The good thing about pretending to be an augmented human security consultant instead of a construct SecUnit is that you can tell the humans to shut up.)
Everybody shut up.
Then, still breathing hard, Ayres said, "Consultant Rin, I thought you said you didn't want to come back up here--"
The other one, Elbik, was pointing dramatically. "Consultant Rin, he said he was going to--"
I'd had Transport list my name as Rin on the manifest though I'd used Eden at RaviHyral. I was fairly certain RaviHyral transit station security had no reason to associate that identity with any sudden deaths taking place on a private shuttle, and even if they had, wouldn't pursue anyone out of their jurisdiction unless contracted to. But it had seemed best to change it.
The others, starting to come out from behind tables and hastily assembled chair barricades, all tried to chime in, and there was more pointing and shouting. This was typical. (If it wasn't for the shows I download from the entertainment feed, I would have thought the only way most humans knew how to communicate was by pointing and shouting.)
The objective twenty-six cycles of the journey had felt like a subjective two hundred and thirty, at least. I had tried to distract them. I had copied all my visual media into Transport's passenger-accessible system so it could be played on all their display surfaces, which at least kept the crying to a minimum (for children and adults). And, granted, the fighting had decreased dramatically after the first time I pinned someone to a wall with one hand and established a clear set of rules. (Rule Number One: do not touch Security Consultant Rin.) But even that usually left me standing there helplessly listening to their problems and their grievances against each other, against various corporations they had been fucked over by (yeah, tell me about it), and against existence in general. Yes, listening to it was excruciating.
Today, I said, "I don't care."
Everybody shut up again.
I continued, "We have, at most, six hours left before this transport will dock. After that, you can do whatever you want to each other."
That didn't work, they still had to tell me about what had caused the latest fight. (I don't remember what it was, I deleted it from memory as soon as I could get out of the room.)
They were all annoying and deeply inadequate humans, but I didn't want to kill them. Okay, maybe a little.
A SecUnit's job is to protect its clients from anything that wants to kill or hurt them, and to gently discourage them from killing, maiming, etc., each other. The reason why they were trying to kill, maim, etc., each other wasn't the SecUnit's problem, it was for the humans' supervisor to deal with. (Or to willfully ignore until the whole project devolved into a giant clusterfuck and your SecUnit prayed for the sweet relief of a massive accidental explosive decompression, not that I'm speaking from experience or anything.)
But here on this transport, there was no supervisor, just me. And I knew where they were going, and they knew where they were going, even if they were pretending all their anger and frustration was caused by Vinigo or Eva taking an extra simulated fruit pac. So I listened to them a lot and pretended to be launching major investigations into incidents like who left a cracker wrapper in the galley restroom sink.
They were heading to a labor installation on some shitshow world. Ayres told me they had all sold their personal labor for a twenty-year hitch, with a big payout at the end. He was aware it was a terrible deal, but it was better than their other options. The labor contract included shelter, but charged a percentage for everything else, like food consumed, energy use, and any medical care, including preventative.
(I know. Ratthi had said using constructs was slavery but at least I hadn't had to pay the company for my repair, maintenance, ammo, and armor. Of course, nobody had asked me if I wanted to be a SecUnit, but that's a whole different metaphor.)
(Note to self: look up definition of metaphor.)
I had asked Ayres if the twenty years was measured by the planetary calendar or the proprietary calendar of the corporation who maintained the planet, or the Corporation Rim Recommended Standard, or what? He didn't know, and hadn't understood why it mattered.
Yeah, that was why I was trying not to get attached to any of them.
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