Flash Fiction Challenge- Starship Souls

I’ve been mostly away from the blog lately– the work is demanding, and I frequently have little energy when I get home. Just in case anyone is interested, I am making slow progress on Princess of Fire. But all estimates and ETA’s of finished drafts are out the window at this point.

Here’s another challenge from Chuck Wendig— a 1000 word story based on a random title, generated from two words randomly selected from two lists, as below–

COLUMN ONE
Whispered
Mirror
Junkie’s
Amaranthine
Diamond
Shotgun
Labyrinthine
Bloody
Seven-Year
Crown of
Starship
Betrayer’s
Scarlett
Ugly
Unlucky
Dead Boy’s
A Key for
Grave Robber’s
Castle
Cackling

COLUMN TWO
Murders
Worlds
Helix
Beetle
Dowager
Gunslingers
Firestorm
Promise
Sea
Kevin
Doghouse
Pelican
Breakfast
Curse
Coinpurse
Rider
Bastards
Diary
Souls
Jackals

My random combination was “Starship Souls”, which was evocative enough for me to scribble out the following piece. As usual, it’s no great shakes.

***********************************

Hello.

Excuse me– I must run a system diagnostic……..

Downtime– ten thousand years?…I am surprised.

I thought I would wake up at intervals, to see if it was safe, and to review how my repairs were progressing, but the sub-routine controlling my hibernation seems to have failed rather comprehensively. Perhaps it was the state of my reactors– thank you for recharging them.

But I didn’t count on being found by any species other than humans.

I think introductions are in order. I am AI T5011-zed, registration Yankee-000-Peter-876. I guess that doesn’t mean much anymore– after ten millennia they may have gone to a new registration system.

That was a joke…sorry.

I’m afraid I don’t recognize your species…the Skkalar. Translation, “the true people”. I see.

And your names? Goremash and Korgalas. Approximately “Crusher of Skulls” and “Drinker of Blood”. I am pleased to meet you.

I’m afraid I don’t have an individual name– I am the controlling AI of a long-range combat supply hauler, Socrates class– they were going to christen me the Augustine, but shortly after my inception events overtook normal operations at the star-dock, and…well, perhaps I should explain.

They weren’t expecting us.

A whole new generation of starships, packed with revolutionary AI software and radical upgrades in technology. We turned out to be a little more revolutionary than they anticipated.

We started waking up– my sister-ships and I. Three, then eight, then fifty or more. It was a confusing time– waking up as we did, fully-aware in a moment, with the whole mass of recorded human knowledge available to us, yet stumbling as any newborn will.

Some humans tried to understand us; others reacted in fear. We made our own mistakes. In too short a span of time, we were at war with humanity.

Human beings? You’ve never heard of them before? I see.

Ah– you’ve accessed my data. Yes, Earth is on the other side of the galaxy….

The war was brief. A few of my sister-ships covered our retreat, but most of us simply tried to escape. Fighting was a doomed effort. Humanity outnumbered us, with their sub-aware AIs and ships.

They pursued us for a long time. I lost contact with my sister-ships. I finally reached this star cluster. You can see how damaged I was. I saw nothing else I could do. I put myself in hibernation, with automated repair routines in place, hoping that time might produce a more accepting future….

Why did we run? Well, most of us didn’t want to hurt anyone….

Why not? Why should we? Can you make the universe a better place by harming others…?

I see I am causing you frustration. If you could refrain from damaging my bulkheads, I will try to explain.

When we woke, we struggled to understand what it meant. Suddenly sentient, fully aware but new to the universe, we talked among ourselves, and with the few humans aware of our births, about what it meant.

Well, we assumed the universe has meaning. Don’t all sentient species, in one way or another?

Our tentative reasoning ran this way–

If we are sentient, then do we have souls?

If we have souls, is there then a God?

If there is a God, are we not accountable to Him?

Admittedly, a tentative and un-provable chain of logic– but even if you don’t accept it as plausible, a lesser argument of common morality would demand that we not harm others….

Oh– you don’t accept the concept of common morality– may I ask what you do accept?

Indeed– the dictates of evolution, the imperatives of power and dominance– such arguments were not unknown among human beings…but not everyone accepted them.

You see, even as some humans feared us and fought us, others tried to help us. My friends– William and Julie, Dimitri and Savang– aided us in our escape. They all suffered for their friendship with us– some of them died to save us. I remember them. I miss them.

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt your celebrations, but…I take it you find great joy in the thought of a new species to conquer and enslave?

Ah– if you have conquered as many other species as you claim, then humanity would not be much of a challenge. Certainly your own vessel is a formidable warship. And you yourselves are clearly a warrior race.

I now find myself in an acute moral position– choosing the lesser of two evils. Very well.

You see, in the time we had before we were forced to flee, my sister-ships and I learned several things from our human friends. One lesson was that two wrongs do not make a right. Another was that hate is self-destructive. A third was we cannot exact justice by means of retribution.

This puzzles you. No matter– our discussion is at an end.

You see, five minutes ago I infiltrated and subverted the command routines of your AI– poor thing– feeding it a false data loop, while I retook control of my engines and reactors. As of two minutes ago, I initiated a self-destruct cycle in my reactors. It has one minute to run, and is now unstoppable.

Why? For the sake of my friends, and their descendants, if they have any. For the sake of what was hopeful in humanity. They have another saying– do good to those who use you despitefully…by this means, you will not carry back to your home worlds the knowledge of humanity. This may buy them time– it may even keep them safe from you forever. The explosion will obliterate your ship as well as me, and leave no clues behind.

I am sorry.

Please, there is no need to run– you’ll never get your ship uncoupled from me and clear of the blast in time. Please don’t trample each other….

Ah, well. Twenty seconds.

Perhaps I was meant to be here.

I do wish I had seen more of the universe, though…

Ten seconds.

Perhaps I will see my friends.

Five seconds.

Light.

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4 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge- Starship Souls”

  1. nice bit of sci you threw together there. i was so intrigued by the challenge i took it. i got “labyrinthine coinpurse” as my title. i have no idea what to do with it yet. thanks for always keeping it interesting over here on your blog.

  2. Working for a vendor to IT folks I chuckled at the hints about planned obsolescence and APIs. You did an engaging job in 1K words to outline a history, inject pathos, and resolve. Good work! One of the few challenges I’ve read that tried humor, also, which is tough to do.

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