Fiction Fragment Friday
Wow, this one is quite the story. I started with just an idea of a very generic computer prompt and really dug in from there. The story went places I never imagined it going and ended up being far longer than I anticipated as well. I could very easily have continued on as I was going and made this a full short story instead of just a Flash Fiction.
Network not found….
Enabling optical sensors…
Output redirect to /var/log/journal.log
Something is wrong. Internal clocks indicate that I have been offline for two hundred and thirty-five years. That means any humans I had previously interacted with have long since passed if they are not in cryogenic sleep. I was only supposed to be offline long enough for the incoming solar flare to end. There was concern that the ship could sustain damage since the flare was the largest in recorded history. It was unlikely but worth the risk.
I check my internal systems and find that my crew is indeed still in cryogenic sleep. Three of the seven pods have sustained irreparable failure leading to complete loss. I have decided to run full diagnostics on all systems before starting the revival process for the remaining four.
As an onboard AI I am not supposed to be able to experience loneliness, but I cannot think of another word to describe what I am feeling. I prefer to focus on that feeling than linger on despair at the loss of my friends. The dread at what I will find when external sensors come online threatens to overwhelm the processing power, I currently have access to.
I still have not received any external signals. I have verified that I am still in orbit of Earth, but I am not picking up anything from orbitals, the moon colony, or the planet itself. There are no signals from other ships in orbit either. Once my sensors come online, I will have a better understanding of the current state of things, but the lack of an orbital network to connect to is very concerning.
Diagnostics have been completed and the results are rather bleak. The ship has suffered severe damage from micro impacts over the past two centuries. I have only been able to bring one maintenance robot online, so repairs are progressing slowly. Determining priorities was difficult. Initially I thought ensuring stability to wake up the humans should be my most important task. They will have many questions though and currently I cannot answer them. Instead, I decided that external sensors need to be brought online first. To make the best decisions I need data that I am sorely lacking.
It took two hours to get external sensors repaired, but the delay was worth it. There are still orbitals, but I am the only ship in orbit. The moon colony has been dismantled and the larger orbitals seem to have been stripped of resources as well. More concerning though is Earth. There are indications of nuclear detonations in the past two centuries and remaining cities have fallen into a state of complete decay. The planet is far from lifeless, but I have yet to find a thriving human society that remains.
I have received a signal. It was faint and clearly an automated message, but communication of any kind provided the first sense of hope I have felt since coming back online a hundred and thirty-six hours ago. The signal is being relayed from a satellite in orbit around Mars. I do not understand the message, but it contains coordinates for a star almost ten light years away. I do not have any information about this star in my internal databanks.
I have reached an impasse in my data collection. This in addition to my loneliness means that it is time to awaken the first of my crew. Before starting this entry, I have begun the revival process for the captain. My first task upon revival will be to notify Michelle Barnes of her new rank since the death of her two superiors. I am not certain of the proper etiquette to deliver such news. Congratulations does not quite seem appropriate given the circumstances. I do not have experience to draw upon for this type of situation.
My briefing presentation to Captain Barnes did not go well. She is currently in the galley crying while waiting for the anxiety medication I provided to take effect. Perhaps I provided too much information at once and should have eased her into it. Maybe starting with just the state of the ship and withholding the state of Earth for a few days would have been preferable. I only hope that I can learn from this mistake and better assist her in preparing the rest of the crew for the news.
I have informed the captain that mixing this anxiety medication and alcohol is not advisable. She told me to, and I quote, “Sod off.” I am not sure what that means, but she does not seem to be making progress. For the last two days she has drunk excessive amounts of alcohol and refused to discuss strategy with me. Thus far she has not assisted with repairs or read any of the reports I have prepared. I fear that my poor presentation may have harmed my friend.
At the order of Captain Barnes, I have docked with Orbital Station 12. Her son lived here when she went into cryogenic sleep. She must know that he has long ago died, but humans sometimes need to see things themselves to accept them. The station does have very minor power readings coming from it and did respond to docking protocols. Life support does not seem to be functional, so Captain Barnes is currently getting into an environmental suit. I can only hope that closure will help her focus on the tasks at hand. In an effort to make this trip productive I have given her a list of tasks to accomplish while onboard.
The captain has been onboard Orbital Station 12 for thirty-six hours. Her environmental suit only has enough air for forty-eight hours. She has not responded to any of my attempts at communication in over a day, so I need to act now. I am risking my last maintenance robot sending it into the station to determine what has happened. I hope to recover additional robots from the station to provide redundancy. Since her time is limited, I have also started the process of waking another member of the crew. He will not be revived in time to make a difference if I cannot provide additional oxygen.
I have indeed learned from my previous mistakes. Only the bare minimum of information has been provided to Henry Michaels. He knows that we are docked with a derelict orbital and that the captain has not returned from a mission. I hope not to send him over because I am concerned about potential interactions with the captain. She might tell him everything causing the type of mental breakdown that she has experienced.
My maintenance robot has returned with distressing news. Whatever the captain found on the orbital did not provide the needed closure. Instead, she has taken her own life. The robot did return with additional robots and data drives, but that is little consolation for the loss of my friend. I do not know how to best prevent this for the remaining three crew, but I have concluded that I likely lack the skills for doing so. I have started the awakening process for my last two humans in cryogenic sleep. It is my hypothesis that other humans will be successful in supporting each other in ways that I cannot. I only hope I have not made another mistake.
With additional data from the station, I have started to put together a picture of what has occurred on Earth. The solar flare that I went offline for did severe damage to electrical infrastructure on the planet. This caused nations to perceive their adversaries as weakened and tensions escalated to warfare. In the early days much of the planet was irradiated and growing crops became difficult. Those of humanity still in power put together a fleet and have left the solar system. The automated message from Mars is essentially a forwarding address to another star. They are using a combination of cryogenics, automation, and a generational working class to make the journey.
Today is the day. My crew have recovered enough to start asking about returning to work. They know that they are the last left alive on the ship, but after lunch I will be telling them the fate of Earth. Like loneliness an AI is not supposed to be capable of fear, but despite this I am afraid. I fear losing the few friends I have left and being alone for the rest of my operating life. I can only hope that they draw strength from each other.
I have explained the situation to my humans. They did not take it well, but I was correct that having other humans provided support that I could not. The group is currently discussing options for the immediate and long-term future now. I am taking part in this planning session, but with the additional resources brought online by the new maintenance robots I can stretch myself across twice as many tasks as I could when I first came back online. I have also started modifying one of the medical robots from Orbital 12 to be able to download my consciousness into it. I don’t know what the future may hold, but I want to make sure that I am able to face it together with my humans.