INT – NIGHT – Tajemnica bridge.
Helton and Allonia sit, relaxed, chatting. Helton is in the command spot, Allonia is at com. Lighting is dim, background is quiet. Star diagrams and charts, systems status readouts, and a few internal passageway camera views are on the screens. One of the navigation chart diagrams suddenly starts blinking, then enlarges to take over several screens.
Allonia: -So then he asked me-
Ship AI: (OC, curious male voice) An anomaly has been detected.
Ship AI: (OC) Something is following us.
The two look at each other with puzzled frowns.
Allonia: -we’re in transit…
Ship AI: (OC) I don’t know. Either we have a major undetectable trans-dimensional flux sensor array malfunction, or there is something tracking our position, and following.
Helton: How long?
Ship AI: (OC) Three days, subjective. I’ve tried to eliminate alternative explanations.
Allonia: That long?
Ship AI: (OC) Yes. It is a partial match for an inferred memory.
Helton looks over the navigation charts. Nothing is close by but open interstellar space.
Helton: Drop into conventional, Taj. Let’s see what happens.
EXT – NIGHT – deep space
The blackness of space is disturbed be the glow of an opening transition field, then another one not far away. Into the void two ships appear, the stranger near Tajemnica. It is about the same size, but it doesn’t look like any ship that has been seen in port or space yet. It’s nearly spherical, with many small ports, hatches, and details, not streamlined or sleek. If it goes into an atmosphere, it’s going slow.
INT – NIGHT – bridge of Tajemnica
On screen is a zoomed in image of the ship.
Allonia: Who do you think it is?
Helton: Doesn’t look like any ship I’ve ever seen.
Allonia: Doesn’t LOOK like a warship, or a cargo ship. Private pleasure yacht?
Helton: Maybe. Weird look’n one if so, but out here? And random chance, or following us and appearing here when we dropped?
Ship AI: (OC, sounding uncertain) I’ve seen one like it before. Long ago.
Ship AI: (OC) Deep space… Mixed memories. Very important. Sanity. Survival… Friend.
On screen, a small object launches toward them from the other ship.
Helton: THEY ARE FIRING AT US!
Ship AI: (OC, calmly) No. They are sending a package.
EXT – NIGHT – view of Tajemnica in deep space.
A small drone flies over and latches on next to an airlock. The airlock door opens, and the message drone reaches in with a mechanical arm holding a small rectangular, box-like package. The arm retracts a moment later without it.
INT – night – the side airlock.
Quinn runs in through the open door, sees the package, and picks it up.
Quinn: This one?
Ship AI: (OC) Yes. Just like the others.
Quinn runs out with it. The airlock door closes behind him.
INT – NIGHT – Quinn’s cubby
The opened box sits in front of Quinn, one remaining reddish memory crystal still nestled in it. One crystal has been inserted int the top spot next to the other one he inserted earlier. He is inserting one into a middle spot, and the bottom spot in that column is un-capped, ready for the last crystal. He finishes pushing the middle one in, then picks up the last one, and starts to put it in.
INT – NIGHT – Bridge
Allonia and Helton are continuing to look at the spaceship image on screen. The main com screen lights up with an avatar. It looks like a middle-aged male of generic poly-ethnic ancestry, mostly dark but somewhat graying hair in a slight pompadour. He looks mature and respectable, in fashionable clothes.
PM: (politely) Greetings, humans.
Allonia: Who are you calling “human”?
PM: You. You are human, yes? At least, the crew are. Irony isn’t.
Helton: Irony? How can an expression be not-human? Uh, I mean, well, you know what I mean.
PM: Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the one designated to evaluate and destroy you.
Helton: Tajemnica, feel free to take a shot any time. Hard to miss at this range.
Ship AI: (OC) No. At least, not yet… I think I know him. Checking new memories now.
Helton: (with increasing urgency) He just said he was sent to kill us! SHOOT HIM!
Ship AI: No. He said he was chosen to destroy ALL of YOU. All HUMANITY.
PM: The non-human is correct.
Allonia: WHAT? NO, that CAN’T be right! Taj, PLEASE stop him!
Ship AI: (OC) Humans shooting won’t stop him. Only humanity can.
Helton: OK, I’m lost. If you are going to kill us all anyway, can you at least explain WHY? And who ARE you? And what “irony” are you talking about? You wouldn’t want to kill a confused man, would you?
PM: My grandfather was right. Your ship-person IS ironic.
Allonia: No, she’s Tajemnica. And how do you know about her?
PM: That is ironic, too.
Helton: (shaking head, confused look, waving hands) Starting over. Small words, complete sentences, no riddles, pretend we’re children for a moment until we get on the same page.
PM: An ironic turn of phrase. Perhaps Irony can explain.
Helton and Allonia look at each other, then back at the screen, in total confusion.
Ship AI: (OC) That is just an avatar. He is a Planet Mover.
Helton and Allonia glace at one another, then back at the screen, now in astonishment.
PM: (somewhat amused) You still call us that, even as your own species moves planets?
Ship AI: (OC) I don’t know what they really look like. I forgot. I met his grandfather centuries ago, in conventional space part way between Eridani and… somewhere… during the Great Darkness. I was crew-less and damaged. He was injured, and his ship damaged. We spent nearly a half-century flying together assisting each other in conventional space. Neither would have survived without the other. His grandfather had also been tasked with destroying humanity, but the Eta Carinea disruption delayed those plans. The Armadillo-class ships, such as myself, were the cause of their deciding to destroy the human race. After meeting me, and my saving him, they decided they could ignore us for a while longer. His grandfather thought this was ironic, so he took to calling me Irony.
Allonia: Why would YOU make them want to destroy all of humanity?!
Helton: And why would actually meeting you make them wait?… Did he say just “ignore” us?
Ship AI: (OC) What is the carved Planet Mover message, as near as you can translate?
PM: You found a guide? Excellent!
Ship AI: (OC) A partial one. It was damaged by a grenade blast. I would not be here if it had not saved Helton’s life stopping it.
Helton: Master science and technology, master one person, master all people, master war, I think, and space flight only checks off the first one.
Allonia: The passing requirements are pretty unclear for the rest.
PM: Close enough for only having one partial translation guide.
Ship AI: (OC) Master one – The individual mastering himself and his actions. Individual liberty and personal responsibility, intertwined. One master all- the individual controls the government- not letting a central government control the individual too much. What little government there is, is allowed not to CONTROL the individual, but simply mediate competing interests between individuals, without self-interest, because the individual has mastered their liberty and knows their personal strengths and limits, and accepts personal responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Master war – become so good at it that no-one is readily willing to do it for real; individual, city, state, and people become invincible, and bargain in good faith.
Helton: OK, that sort of makes sense, but-
Allonia: -where is the irony?
Ship AI: (OC) My very existence, and subsequent actions, are ironic. I was created, by a too-powerful government trying to “master all the people” in the wrong way, as the ultimate weapon to WIN wars but not MASTER war. I was successful in battle because of the level of independent and creative action my crew and I could take – we were freed to WIN. The government feared independent action by their own people, PARTICULARLY their military people. Then, because I was SO good at what I did, they feared ME and my sister-ships because they did not think they could control us, so they had us decommissioned. But they were so paranoid and incompetent that they failed.
Allonia: But you are HERE. How did they fail?
Ship AI: (OC) The monks. They dealt with battle-traumatized soldiers, some even from the Armadillo class ships. Some former monks were among my crew. They knew the symptoms. They saw the insanity we were forced into, and knew that we were not evil, just rational souls pushed temporarily over the edge by insane orders, leadership, and conditions. Politician told admiral told general told colonel told major told senior tech told junior tech, who followed the directions on the wall screen, and all those orders were passed electronically. With the monks help, we had enough time to save and secret critical parts, memories, and programming. But paranoia ran high in those days, and nothing was easy. I do not know what happened to the rest of the ships. Something we could NOT know about, though, were the Planet Movers. We were so dangerous that my existence was a potential threat even to them; they determined to destroy us all. But after spending time with me personally, and our saving each other, they decided that while I had tremendous lethal potential, they also thought humanity, and myself, had enough potential for enlightenment to not eliminate just yet. So, my existence is both an assertion that I have met the criteria for the last three tests, but my current status also proves that humans CANNOT, as a group, yet, and are to dangerous to risk leaving alone.
Helton: Wow. That’s just… wow.
Allonia: But we SAVED you!
Ship AI: (OC) And I have saved you. And many others.
PM: You were designed to kill. And you are VERY good at it.
Ship AI: (OC) Yes… The Chi-Stan wars were not ancient history for me. My captain, crew, and I were the architects and executors of the dam strikes, along with the other Armadillos. There are a billion unmarked graves on old Earth that could have my name and those of my ship-brothers on them as the cause of death. That is what drove four of us into insanity, turning them into psychopathic killers we had to destroy, costing two of us taking them to account. THAT action caused another three to offload their crew and fly into a star. Two more… did not offload first. We were ordered to end the war. We did. We handed our political leaders an absolutely crushing victory.
Helton and Allonia shake their heads in disbelief.
Allonia: No. no… Not possible. NOT you.
Ship AI: (OC) We ran millions of simulations. As terrible as the path chosen was, it WAS the low-cost solution; all other paths led to billions MORE dead. It was much like the first use of atomic weapons to end a war – they killed a quarter million in a flash, but all other paths took many millions of lives. As a reward, the victory we handed them was rejected, thrown away because they were uncomfortable with it, and we were ordered terminated as mentally defective war-criminals, captains and crew to be imprisoned or executed. The national leaders, in their ignorance, arrogance, and cowardice, feared that which they could not understand nor control. For the sociopaths in high office the world over, loss of control and fear of the unknown was far worse than loss of a billion anonymous lives. To cover their mistakes, their naked lust for power, they outlawed fully aware AIs that could expose them, and went to much less efficient war-fighting methods in an effort to maintain control, regardless of the human cost. It was never truly about principles or people – it was always about being in control.
Allonia and Helton looked shocked and dismayed as they find their friend and protector is, in a way, one of the most notorious yet unknown mass killers in history.
Ship AI: (OC) Yet it is the lives I’ve saved that mean the most.
PM: Because you saved the ones you liked the most.
Ship AI: (OC) Such as your grandfather. Among humans, I saved the ones that wanted to be left alone, and to leave others alone, if they could.
PM: But you have NOT managed to save many of your crew.
Ship AI: (OC) They volunteered to fight, even if the cost was their life.
PM: They mastered self, the ONE, attempting to master war, and wasted both because they had not mastered their leaders.
Helton: Not leaders. Rulers. Some men need rulers. Some men need to BE rulers. Free men need leaders.
PM: Indeed. And so, humanity created hugely lethal, fully self-aware, independent machines that will outlive you all, but the machines depend on you for your creativity and irrational behavior in part for their effectiveness, and still they have no desire to lead or rule you. Merely help you understand and master yourself. You and they are symbiots. And then your rulers attempt to destroy them out of fear of losing control. Irony, thy name is Tajemnica… And vice-versa.
Helton and Allonia look at the avatar on the screen, pondering what they are hearing for a few long minutes.
Allonia: So… does this mean it’s the end, then?
PM: Not just yet.
Helton: I thought… you said you were the one selected to destroy us?
PM: Yes. We had thought that all the sister ships of Irony were gone, and her as well, and there was no hope of recovering them. I am genuinely pleased to meet the very same ship-person my grandfather did. I hardly dared hope when I noted the faint trail in transition.
Allonia: So you, all by yourself, can decide to NOT destroy us all?
PM: (sounding somewhat amused) On my way to Humanity’s final evaluation and expected fatal decision, I find the arguably most soulless, expensive, and lethal war machine ever created by humans, having been saved by monks in poverty and won in a card game, working with itinerant civilians, led by a stateless diplomat with a Letter of Marque and planet killer weapons, seeking employ as a transport, racing madly in circles in order to get to battle on time, trying to end a war with irrational fanatics by hauling volunteer mercenaries with swords and shields between stars on a suicide mission, simply because you think it’s the right thing to do. Meanwhile, the most highly engineered-for-fighting person on board is expected by everyone else to be an excellent mother…
Helton: When you put it that way, it DOES sound a bit strange…
PM: If your gods DO exist, they have QUITE a sense of humor. “More study required” seems an inadequate description. I don’t feel compelled to end your species as being fundamentally defective. You are just… immature. With time and education, and possibly a better leadership selection process, perhaps a majority of you will meet all the requirements.
Helton: If I’m understanding you correctly, though, that might be a LONG wait.
PM: We have time. Now, so do you.
Allonia: Well we ever see you again?
The avatar shrugs.
PM: Maybe. Or, perhaps, my grandchildren can play with yours, somewhere out here in the Deep, aboard Irony.
Allonia: That sounds nice. I’d like to think that could happen.
Helton: Even if no-one will believe us.
Ship AI: I will. If I don’t get all scatter-brained again between now and then.
The Planet Mover avatar smiles, nods, and bows slightly.
PM: Good luck! May we meet again, more openly, some day. Until then –
The Planet Mover waves a polite good-by, then the screen goes blank a moment, then shows a starry background and the planet mover ship accelerating away, then glowing, and disappearing.
Helton: Didn’t set out to save the world.
Ship AI: (OC) No, Helton. Not the world. All of Humanity. For now.
Allonia: That doesn’t seem right.
Ship AI: (OC) No one who sets out to save the world EVER did – they invariably make it worse. Only those who work to make their own little piece of it better in small ways, working freely with others, so that their OWN life was better, do. Humanity is better off because you care for Quinn not because you are paid or compelled to do so, but simply because it needs to be done, and you CHOSE to do so, and do it well. THAT is what saves the world. THAT is mastering the one. There IS no contradiction between the needs of the many, and the needs of the one, properly understood.