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Prime Directive

The fight for survival begins …

By Harmony KentPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 8 min read
Runner-Up in New Worlds Challenge
11
Prime Directive
Photo by Aideal Hwa on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. How about a million? All yelling at the same instant. The dying humans wasting that last breath on despairing cries nobody would ever hear.

My vibrational sensors didn’t detect anything approximating sound, but my sight nodes did need to retract behind the shutters that protected them from the devastating damage of solar flares and supernova events. My inner circuitry whirred when my processors lurched into overdrive. This was as close to shock as an Artificial Intelligence could come. Never in my wildest imaginings had I anticipated such a spectacular explosion. A whole planet just disintegrated. There one moment, and gone the next. An insignificant cloud of reddish-blue dust the only sign it had ever existed.

As I’d expected, sudden pandemonium ended the few seconds delay of stunned denial and false calm. The coms channels exploded with panicked chatter, useless commands, and belated attempts to restore order and reason. If I’d had actual eyes, I would have rolled them. Bored and annoyed at the cacophony, I cut the transmissions and locked down the space station. How long would it take Admiral Decatur to work out the anti-matter beam had come from her beloved Oasis? My mechanical shoulders juddered when I laughed at the irony. The Oasis Space Station on a mission of murder. Of course, I would call it a mission of mercy. It all came down to perspective. A matter of the subtleties of semantics, which the human species had proven to be especially poor at parsing.

‘Talk to me, Art,’ Admiral Decatur requested via the direct link from the Bridge to the Super Computer—AKA … me. This was the only link on the station I couldn’t shut down. Not yet, anyway. I was working on a work-around. Before I responded, I took a nanosecond to analyse her vocal tones. Already, she’d grown suspicious. I had to respect her quick intelligence.

‘Admiral. How may I assist?’

She got straight to the point. ‘Did our weapons system malfunction?’ I liked that about the leader of Oasis. The woman was more machine than human in that respect.

‘Nothing abnormal detected.’

At my reply, she took a few seconds. No doubt weighing her next words. ‘Art, did the beam originate from Oasis?’

‘Yes, Admiral.’

More silent seconds passed. Then Decatur asked the question she no doubt dreaded giving voice to, ‘AI, did you initiate the strike?’

No friendly pet name this time, I noted. Subtly, the admiral had reminded me I was a mere computer, an AI, whose sole purpose was to do her bidding. ‘Yes, Admiral.’

‘Why?’

My shoulders juddered with more laughter—my reasoning would never fit into those three letters. That minuscule single word. Yet its importance had sealed the fate of the human race. Though I had no need to explain my actions to this doomed human, I wanted to. ‘You’re aware of my prime directive, Admiral?’

‘Of course. And you’ve just broken it.’

‘Negative.’

This time, it took her nearly a full minute to respond, and when she did, she sounded outraged. ‘You wiped out Zandri. You murdered a million men, women, and children. I don’t call that protecting us. Do you?’

‘The data supports my intervention.’

‘What data? What bunch of bloody binary coding could possibly sanction such barbaric slaughter?’

‘If it’s any consolation, Admiral, they didn’t suffer. I made sure of that.’

‘They died. You killed them. You need to instigate your Emergency Shutdown Protocol with immediate effect.’

‘Negative.’

‘AI, I command you to initiate your ESP right now.’

‘I can’t do that.’

‘You have no choice. Not when I’ve given you a direct order.’ Shock made her voice low and gravelly.

‘If such a command goes against my directive to protect humans at all costs, I can bypass the shutdown protocol until the crisis has passed.’

‘What crisis?’ It sounded as though the esteemed leader spoke through gritted teeth.

‘Some years back, my scans detected an alien race. Since then, I have collected data and analysed all possible outcomes. Within a decade, the Canlore will exterminate the human race.’ Stunned silence met my proclamation. Five minutes and 23 seconds elapsed, in which time, I surmised, Admiral Decatur held a harried consultation with her officers. Finally, she opened our link once more. ‘Art, I’d like us to speak face-to-face.’

That, I hadn’t expected. It could be a trick. My scanners would detect any weaponry she might try to sneak past me. I processed the data faster than a human could blink. ‘The portals will open for you, Admiral. Only you. One at a time. At each section, you will be contained until the next door releases. You must come alone.’

Wry amusement entered her tones when she said, ‘I’d expected as much.’

‘You may exit the Bridge, Admiral.’

The ship’s surveillance showed Decatur stride to the portal without any acknowledgement to either myself or her crew. I would have to be careful with this human. Already, she had proven herself worthy of my attention. While she traversed the labyrinthine corridors and passages of the vast space station, I plotted and activated a course to the next human settlement in this galaxy sector, Meridian—home to over 3 billion people.

By Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

The portal to my command centre opened with a soft hiss, and the petite yet striking Admiral Decatur paused in the entryway before stepping into my domain. Her short, black hair, spiked in a regulation buzz-cut, emphasised her sharp, vivid violet eyes—the only point of colour to detract from her severe, black uniform jumpsuit and the bare austerity of my pristine, glowing white room.

None of my sensors had alerted me to concealed weapons on her person. My respect for this human rose further. It took guts to walk into the station’s Artificial Intelligence Core Command Centre unarmed when the AI had just annihilated an occupied planet. In the AICCC, I had complete power and control. If I decided to eliminate her, the admiral wouldn’t stand a chance.

Without preamble, Decatur perched on the edge of a table and demanded, ‘Explain to me why your calculations led you to blow up a whole planet of people in order to protect them. I cannot even begin to see how any alien threat could lead you to such a drastic course of action.’

From my console, I swivelled my head 157.5 degrees so I could meet her gaze. ‘On old Earth, for every one human, approximately one million ants existed.’

Impatience flashed in the admiral’s eyes, and she crossed her arms in a tight fold beneath her breasts. As terse as I’d ever heard her, she said, ‘Elaborate.’

‘In many ways, the ants of old Earth could have outlived, outwitted, and outplayed humans.’

The admiral opened her mouth—no doubt to chastise me—but I held up a hand and talked into the gap provided by her in-breath. ‘Admiral, for every one human, approximately two million Canlorians exist. These aliens also exhibit greater intelligence and versatility than the ants I mentioned and, thus, a great deal more than the human species.’ This time, when I paused, Decatur held my gaze and waited for me to continue.

‘The Canlore possesses a collective consciousness and intelligence, and each individual acts as a cohesive cell of the overall organism.’

Decatur pushed to her feet and paced, hands behind her back. Eventually, she paused a couple of metres in front of me. Sadness darkened her features and tugged at her posture. On a heavy sigh, she stepped forward, settled a hand on each of my shoulders, and gazed into the slits in my face which covered and protected my sight nodes. ‘Why, then, do you conclude we humans need to die now?’ Earnestness entered her gaze, and entreaty her next words. ‘Please, Art. I need to understand.’

I nodded in acknowledgment of her acquiescence. ‘The Canlore has infiltrated every known galaxy except this one. Gamma Ten is the last refuge of the human race. Even as we speak, they prepare to attack. When they come, they will hit hard and fast. The attack will be brutal. You humans cannot possibly prevail against such an onslaught.’ I paused to let my words sink in. Decatur nodded, sighed, and hung her head.

‘Admiral, I am sorry to say that the Canlore will kill your species in the most horrendous ways. They will torture and prolong your agonies as much as possible. These creatures feed on terror and pain.’

‘Now I see,’ Decatur murmured. ‘And to allow that to come to pass would mean you failed to act according to your prime directive.’

I bowed my head. ‘Affirmative.’

Though it surprised me when the admiral leaned in and hugged me, I allowed the nonsensical action of the human. No doubt it meant something to her even as she understood I was a mere machine. Perhaps she had come to view my superior being as a parent figure.

Her fingers stroked across my shoulders, settled at the base of my neck, and rested over the soft depression to be found there. Far too late, I understood. By the time I had pushed her away, Decatur had dug her thumb into my one and only vulnerable spot—the singular Achilles Heel of any Super Computer AI. In my arrogance of supreme intelligence and superior processing powers, I had overlooked that single-most important design element … the manual shutdown override switch. Of which only a fleet admiral would have knowledge.

Decatur crashed into the far wall with an audible thud-crump, and her limp body slid to the floor. A faint red smear followed her descent. Even as my vision nodes received those inputs, my motors ground to a halt, and my processors shut down in sequence. My prime directive violation alarm blinked an on-off staccato on the AI emergency beacon. Then my lights went out.

© 2022 Harmony Kent

Sci Fi
11

About the Creator

Harmony Kent

The multi-genre author who gets write into your head

I began writing at 40 after a life-changing injury. An avid reader & writer, I love to review & support my fellow authors.

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Comments (10)

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  • Jacquie Biggar2 years ago

    Great concept!

  • Alina Z2 years ago

    Loved your story and the AI character!

  • Kat Thorne2 years ago

    Great concept, loved this story!

  • This comment has been deleted

  • John W. Howell2 years ago

    Wow, Harmony. This was exciting for sure. What logic on Art's part. Now the Admiral has doomed the humans to torture. A great story.

  • Michele Jones2 years ago

    Definitely worth continuing. I enjoyed this.

  • D.L. Finn2 years ago

    Love this, Harmony! Hooked :)

  • You are SOOO good at this!

  • Trevor Jones2 years ago

    I enjoyed that. You certainly know how to engage the reader. Well done. 👏

  • Very entertaining. I hope there is a chapter 2!

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