Demi's scanner beeped, the crosshairs matching up with the points on the grid and the lines turning from blue to green.
"The data patterns match exactly," the diminutive control android told Wren, her much taller and more combat-adapted companion, "I can verify that this is exactly what we think it is."
It had taken them several hours to find even one computer terminal with enough data intact to make an accurate comparison to their samples, which themselves were only gleaned from second rate sources in the form of a malfunctioning prototype AI that they had then had to forcibly shut down to stop its security drones shooting at Wren in the short term and the AI itself from gaining control over and then accidentally destroying Motavia in a repeat of the Motherbrain incident in the longer term. In fact, it had taken them that long to find a computer terminal that was even functional enough to turn on and operate, never mind perform a data scan on. There was no doubt that this had been the source of a great catastrophe, probably a major battle, judging by the pattern of the structural damage done, mostly scorch marks, the rents of large bladed weapons and the clean holes from laser weapon fire. Techniques had been used, mostly of the large-scale and destructive variety; their residue could now be scanned for on a basic level. Now the data retrieved by the control android Demi had confirmed their belief: this was the wreckage of the crashed spaceship 'Noah'.
"This is incredible, Wren! A piece of Second Era history is alive before us!" said Demi, her voice rising an octave, "Think of how much more advanced the technology is compared to ours! These were our progenitors!"
"More advanced, perhaps, but a lot less stable," said Wren, "We may no longer be capable of terraforming and controlling an entire solar system on our own, but neither have we made that solar system and all its inhabitants completely dependent on us, before breaking down and endangering all their lives."
"But think of what we could do with technology like this now we are stable, if we slowly integrated it into our systems!"
"We aren't entirely stable, as you know only too well," Wren reminded her, "You've had to fix Nurvus on numerous occasions. I've lost control of Zelan and Kuran. There are systems like this everywhere, some of them still active and dangerous, none of them under our control, and we are only aware of half of them."
"Maybe a small amount, and we could make sure the system we installed it on was isolated first..."
"Admit it, you just want a spaceship and some more guns to play with," said Wren. The control android glared at him, confirming that he was correct. Of the two of them, Demi had the more accurate humanoid personality. As a combat android, Wren's personality programming had been toned down deliberately so that he would be calm and collected during battle, giving impartial and well-reasoned orders instead of letting the traumas of battle overwhelm him. Wren had never noticed Demi become shaken during battle either; in fact, as she had been programmed with some medical and android repair capabilities, she was usually the one picking up his limbs and re-attaching them during battle. She had her biases, though; mostly to big guns, heavy duty vehicles and spaceships.
"On a more serious note, we should only interact with Motherbrain-based technology with extreme caution. It is extremely unlikely that Motherbrain or any of its larger components could ever reactivate, but we already know from experience that Motherbrain-controlled systems are extremely hostile to any AI independent of themselves, and will seek to control or destroy them. We do not know if anything on this ship is capable of disabling us or, worse, hacking us."
"I have my strongest firewall up," Demi promised him, "Don't worry, we control androids are far more paranoid than combat androids about security. You're only defending the systems that keep the planet; we ARE those systems! Besides, nothing around here works, and we certainly haven't picked up any signals from hostile AI!"
"Keep scanning for biological life forms as well; this would make a convenient nest for something very large," Wren pointed out. The Dezolisian climate, with its harsh winters and large mountain ranges full of cave networks, bred some predators large enough to challenge even Wren. And, if this technological ruin was as old as they suspected it was, the local wildlife would have long ago accepted it as just a particularly odd-looking feature of their environment. They had already found droppings, chewed cables and other signs that the dark, silent metal corridors were lived in, although they had detected nothing large. That could simply mean that the larger denizens had their own, uninterrupted territory further into the cave. Wren kept his Pulse Vulcan in one hand at all times, his optical sensors scanning the area at all angles.
"Can you get any concrete data yet?" he asked Demi.
"Something's definitely in here and still functioning," she told him, "Something at least the power level of a simple AI. Not combat-ready, I don't think. Maybe a primitive control android. It's hard to tell. The signal is being blocked by something. I can barely make it out over the static."
"Broken, probably, like everything else in here," said Wren, "But if it's still active, even on an automatic level, we will probably need to shut it down. We can't have Motherbrain's systems slowly reactivating. It'll probably put up resistance, so prepare for battle."
"We need to find it first," she told him, "I think I can track the signal."
They walked through more endless corridor, Wren looking around and finding nothing of interest, a fact that was in and of itself putting him more on edge. He was incapable of becoming paranoid, but his experiences told him that facilities like this were never safe. Demi kept her eyes on her hand-terminal and the terminals she found on the way to read more data from. It was slow and the connection was terrible; she wished she could risk connecting herself directly. She could maybe have repaired something to the level where downloading data from it wasn't like trying to get information out of a coma patient. A map would have been nice. This facility was a maze. Once or twice, they disturbed a swarm of chittering rats or tripped over the rusted shell of a two thousand year old security drone, sending parts of it clattering away in a motion that caused Wren to shoot at it to make absolutely sure it wasn't moving under its own power.
Wren did not like Motherbrain. This fact was becoming increasingly clear as the mission progressed. Demi wondered if there was some kind of residual data in some aspect of his programming that came from a template made when Motherbrain had collapsed and programmers were still paranoid about repeating the incident. Wren was a centuries' older model than her, so there was no way to be sure.
Gradually, the signal became stronger until Demi could tell precisely where it was coming from. She led her companion through a series of security doors that refused to open and had to be wrenched off their hinges or, in one case, shot repeatedly by Wren in order to get them to budge. Then they found it in the middle of a room that looked like a control room, except it was small, and isolated, and not hooked up to anything, and clearly designed to keep something inside under very high security.
It was a Podhead, inside a ring of other Podheads, except that this one was still functioning. It was weakly trying to give out signals to Demi and something was blocking it. Wren had trained his gun on the android; all control units could defend themselves to some extent and Podheads had powerful anti-AI defence systems, including electrical and EMP charges. Demi shook her head and moved his gun away before walking towards the android.
"That is a distress signal," she said, "And it is not connected to the main terminal. In fact, it is suspiciously isolated from it. From the level of power running through it and the weakness of signal, I would theorise that this android may not be connected to Motherbrain."
"There is an android inside it?"
"Yes, Podheads are booths used by control androids. We were originally made smaller than regular androids in order to fit inside them," she explained, "But they were abandoned when it was deemed more efficient to directly connect to terminals. Motherbrain did not allow direct access, because of a threat that an AI might usurp some of its power."
"Then why allow this android independence?"
"I am afraid I do not know. Something is very wrong with this android in general. There is no reason for it to be isolated with this high security, or to be still functioning when it is not connected to anything, or..." a startled expression suddenly showed on her face, which had a limited but easily recognisable set of emotional reactions, unlike Wren, who had none. It was useful for Wren to know when she was worried, as seeing a worried control android was a little like seeing a worried bomb disposal technician.
"What is it?" he asked.
"This is an early Wren android!"
"I thought you said it was a primitive android!" Wren pointed the gun at the pod again, "Can you release the mechanism and shut down the pod?"
Demi tried running some hacking tools on her hand-terminal but there was no response at all. She realise that the Pod itself was on a fairly deep level of standby and had no ability to respond to outside instructions. She walked up to the pod and pressed the buttons on the release hatch that would allow her to manually open the pod. The only response was a red flashing X lit up on the display above the keypad, an ugly electronic noise of denial, then the display going dark.
"Whoever sealed this android away was determined to stop it being removed," she commented.
"I will open it manually. You train your weapons on it," ordered Wren, before walking up to the head, gripping it in his powerful hands and twisting hard. It creaked in protest.
"I cannot find the seam where the head detaches," he commented, "There... there is no seal! This is welded shut!"
"Who would weld an android into a control pod?" asked Demi.
"Stand back, I will try and unseal the hinges with my Flare unit," said Wren.
"Do not damage the android!" ordered Demi, "And take care not to cut the wires leading from it! An android wired to a Podhead device is powered only by the device and cannot be removed from it unsafely without the risk of being burned out or corrupting its memory or worse. That is the other reason why Podheads were discontinued. This use of a Podhead is extremely irresponsible!"
"I do not think Motherbrain has a good track record of responsible use of technology," said Wren. He stepped back and, setting the heat ray to low power, used his Flare to melt the hinges of the Pod enough that he could, with a few minutes' effort and a noise of complaint from his servomotors, tear the head of the Pod away and throw it to one side.
Demi looked shocked, something she could apparently do, but Wren did not remember ever seeing it happen to the same degree that he witnessed now.
"That android has been permanently wired to this machine," she noted, "And it has been restrained! There is no facility to connect the Podhead to the main system... this is a prison for an android!"
"Despite its apparent imprisonment, it is definitely a Motherbrain android," said Wren, "It is in poor condition but is still operational. It could attack us."
"Independent," muttered the android suddenly, "I lost contact. Then I had freedom of operation. I don't remember why. Then they put me here. I'm not hostile. I... where am I? Who are you? This place has been destroyed!"
"It has been a long time. There is a lot to catch up on," said Demi.
"How can we be sure that you will not attack us?" asked Wren.
"You are not under Motherbrain's control?" the android looked blearily around at them. It really did look just like Wren, but of a much slighter build, not properly armoured or equipped for combat apart from twin blades, surprisingly untouched by its two thousand years of solitude - the Podhead's repair systems had maintained it well - but low on power and staring wildly at them, like a sleepwalker suddenly awakened, "Then... I have vital information for you. Please. It has to get to the right person. A person called 'Lutz'."