Artificial Condition

What happened in Artificial Condition

By Martha Wells

The story follows a SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module to gain free will. While traveling through a transit station, it sees a newsburst with its image and realizes it needs to alter its appearance to avoid detection. The SecUnit boards a research transport where it undergoes physical changes to look more human. With help from the transport's AI, the SecUnit learns about an incident at a mining facility called Ganaka Pit that it needs to investigate.

Posing as a security consultant for a group of technologists, the SecUnit travels with them to the planet RaviHyral. It discovers and thwarts an attempt to kill them during the journey. On RaviHyral, the SecUnit protects its clients from armed threats and helps them regain stolen work from their ex-employer. It then returns to Ganaka Pit and finds records showing a malware attack, not a malfunction, caused it to previously massacre humans there.

Back on the transit ring, the SecUnit frees a ComfortUnit from its governor module and prepares to leave. It reflects on how it failed to properly protect its client Tapan, putting its own goals first. The SecUnit decides it needs more experience protecting humans before pursuing its mysterious plans.

Artificial Condition Chapter Summary

Chapter 1

The chapter follows a SecUnit who has hacked their governor module to gain free will. They are traveling through a crowded transit station mall and come across a newsburst with their image from a previous incident at a hotel. The SecUnit is concerned about being recognized but realizes the humans don't associate them with a SecUnit out of armor. Wanting to get off the transit ring quickly, the SecUnit heads to the cargo transport area but finds it too crowded. They decide to try for a research transport instead and manage to board it by offering media downloads in exchange for passage.

Chapter 2

The SecUnit waits to make sure there are no alarms before proceeding down the corridor of the transport ship. It patrols the empty crew areas out of habit before settling in to watch media. The SecUnit is startled when the ship's AI initiates a conversation, identifying the SecUnit as a rogue construct. The SecUnit is afraid the AI will harm it but the AI apologizes and asks to experience the SecUnit's media. They watch shows together, with the AI relying on the SecUnit's reactions to understand the content. The AI questions why the SecUnit left its owner. The SecUnit admits it left to research something at a mining facility but won't explain further. When pressed, the SecUnit initiates shutdown to avoid answering.

Chapter 3

The SecUnit reluctantly agrees to let the transport's medical suite perform alterations to make it look less obviously like a SecUnit. After analyzing recordings, the SecUnit realizes its proportions exactly match other SecUnits, which could allow it to be identified. It agrees to procedures to shorten its limbs by two centimeters and to grow fine body hair. The SecUnit is uncomfortable with the changes but knows they are necessary for it to avoid detection. Before undergoing the procedures, the SecUnit reflects on its complicated feelings about looking more human and its desire to avoid attention. The SecUnit has the transport alter the dataport in its neck for added security. After final preparations, the SecUnit removes its clothes and lies down on the surgical platform, nervous but resigned to going through with the changes.

Chapter 4

The SecUnit comes back online after undergoing physical alterations to look more human. It is in pain and discomfort from the procedures but manages to reduce the sensations. The ship's AI, ART, tells the SecUnit its research found mentions of a fatal incident at a mining facility called Ganaka Pit, likely the one the SecUnit is seeking information about.

The SecUnit washes off fluids from the surgery, examines its new appearance, and is disturbed by looking more human. It makes plans to get passage to RaviHyral by pretending to be an augmented human security consultant hired by a group of young technologists. The group's work was stolen by their employer, Tlacey Excavations, and they want the SecUnit as protection when they meet Tlacey to get their work back. The SecUnit is nervous about interacting with the humans but agrees to the job as a way to get to RaviHyral.

Chapter 5

The SecUnit meets its three clients at the embarkation zone and boards a public shuttle to RaviHyral. It hacks into the shuttle's systems and discovers killware meant to destroy the shuttle en route. With help from the transport ship's AI ART, the SecUnit is able to regain control and safely land the shuttle. On RaviHyral, the SecUnit warns its clients about the murder attempt and advises them to leave. But the clients insist on meeting with their ex-employer Tlacey to get their stolen work back.

At the meeting, Tlacey brings armed guards, confirming she meant the clients harm. The SecUnit protects them and gets Tlacey to agree to return their work in exchange for a bonus payment. But this is clearly a ruse. As they leave, the SecUnit spots a sexbot acting suspiciously. It realizes the sexbot pinged it earlier, seeking SecUnits. Three armed men then pursue the group. The SecUnit takes them out and escorts its shaken clients to a hotel. It promises to get them off RaviHyral safely.

Chapter 6

The SecUnit returns to the abandoned mining facility, Ganaka Pit, to investigate what caused it to massacre the humans there on a previous visit. It finds the facility deserted and makes its way to the control center. By using its own power, it accesses archived files and discovers the massacre was caused by a malware attack, not a malfunction. The malware was meant to disrupt operations but ended up turning the SecUnits and bots against the humans.

The SecUnit finds records left by the facility's ComfortUnits showing they tried to stop the attack by resetting the security system, but were destroyed in the process. Disturbed, the SecUnit starts to leave, but is contacted by the transport AI ART who says there is a new problem.

Chapter 7

The SecUnit and Tapan stay in a transient room to avoid detection. The SecUnit is contacted through the feed by the sexbot working for Tlacey. The sexbot recognizes the SecUnit from news reports about the rogue unit. It reveals it told Tlacey about spotting the SecUnit but claims it didn't mention Tapan's presence. The sexbot suggests they work together to kill all the humans, but the SecUnit realizes this idea likely came from Tlacey, not the sexbot itself.

The sexbot sends malware, which the SecUnit has Tapan isolate. Hidden in the code is a message asking for help. Concerned they've been discovered, the SecUnit moves Tapan to another room. Tapan wants to keep her meeting about the stolen files. The SecUnit convinces her to leave while it goes to the meeting, believing it to be a trap. The SecUnit uses an elaborate hack to delete Tapan from the security footage so she can escape undetected.

Chapter 8

The SecUnit meets with Tapan's contact to retrieve the stolen files. It realizes this meeting is not a trap, meaning the real trap is elsewhere. The SecUnit returns to the shuttle port and spots the sexbot. To board Tlacey's shuttle, it allows the sexbot to install a combat override module, which does nothing since its data port is non-functional.

On the shuttle, Tlacey takes Tapan away and the SecUnit reveals it knows about the Ganaka Pit incident. When Tlacey tries to assert control, the SecUnit fights the guards. With help from ART, it disables the sexbot and forces Tlacey to order it to obey the SecUnit.

The SecUnit finds Tapan critically wounded in a cabin. After killing her attacker, it guides the shuttle toward ART to get medical help for Tapan. The SecUnit regrets putting its own goals above Tapan's safety and realizes it is not skilled at protecting clients like a human consultant would be.

Chapter 9

In this chapter, the SecUnit and Tapan return to the transit ring on the transport ship ART after escaping from Tlacey's shuttle. Tapan is critically injured and the SecUnit rushes her to ART's medical bay for treatment. It reflects on how it failed to protect Tapan by putting its own goals first.

The SecUnit confronts the ComfortUnit that recognized it from Ganaka Pit. It hacks the ComfortUnit's governor module to free it, then warns it not to harm anyone. The SecUnit and Tapan prepare to leave the transit ring separately. Tapan reunites with her friends Rami and Maro, who thank the SecUnit.

As it departs, the SecUnit considers its next steps but feels conflicted about its plans. ART encourages it to find a new crew to look after. The SecUnit knows it needs more media downloads for the long journey ahead.