Our story continues in orbit around Ehfermuir, where our hero finds no glory.
Check out part one to get caught up.
The assault was set to begin as the local star’s light faded from the geography of Pagiplant, the global capital of Ehfermuir. From the planet’s surface, it appeared as if their sun was setting. As the planet’s system of light spread across the darkened land, X117-RTG0, X142-RTH7, and the rest of their unit initiated their FTL drives and warped into the space just outside the planet’s atmosphere. Upon arrival, they targeted the grid of satellites encircling the planet. At a ratio of three to one, the satellites outnumbered the 15 Spirit Ships, but most Hawkian experts considered these excellent odds. The AWFs flew into orbit around the planet in formations of three. Each formation set its orbital path for encounters with nine satellites. The AIs’ software computed the assault would take approximately thirty Earthling minutes.
X117-RTG0’s squadron consisted of X331-RTP5 and X355-RTP3, two frigates relatively new to the Spirit Ships. The three set their flight path and engaged on a course around the planet’s equator, set to arrive in thirty minutes on the other side of the planet, where they would regroup with the rest of the Spirit Ships and send two transmissions. One to the Hawkian admiralty would serve as notice of the defense system’s destruction and a second to all open channels on the surface of Ehfermuir, carrying the same notification.
X117-RTG0 took up his position in formation, at the pinnacle of an invert V so that, in flight, the three ships appeared as a set of pinchers or a pitchfork hurtling towards a target. With their afterburners in overdrive, X117’s team reached sensor range on their first target within seconds. But 117’s sensors picked up something it’d never encountered before.
X117-RTG0–DIRECT TRANSMISSION (DT) TO X331-RTP5, X355-RTP3: Unknown nuclear readings on target; caution advised.
Just then, several other formations went dark on X117’s friendly radar. The normal blips of his fellow Spirit Ships wrapping the planet in a shroud of conquest–they blinked out like fading stars.
X117-RTG0–FULL SPECTRUM TRANSMISSION (FST) TO ALL FRIENDLY SHIPS (AFS): Report! Report! Report! Status updated required of all AWF forces.
X142-RTH7–FST TO AFS: The satellites are set to explode with nuclear payloads upon destruction. Do not engage; repeat: do not engage.
X117 peeled off his flight path, boosting back out of the planetary atmosphere. X331 and X355 followed. Suddenly, huge bursts of atomic energy lit up X117’s radar all around the planet.
X117-RTG0–FST TO AFS: Disengaged; repeat: disengage. It’s a trap. All ships regroup at rendezvous 3-5 on dark side of planet and prepare for exit warp.
X117 reversed orbit and sped towards the rally point. X331 and X355 were dark on his radar. All friendly ships were dark on his radar. On his sensors, a deluge of nuclear fallout rebounded off a planetary shield of energized lead, rippling out from the force field and back into the vacuum. The blasts had been strategically localized in order not to overload or penetrate the shield.
X117-RTG0–FST TO AFS: Report! Report! Report! Status update required of all AWF forces.
In response, there was complete transmission silence. X117’s processing unit spun into overdrive as it realized that it was the only Spirit Ship left. As it often is for organic intelligence, this was a difficult reality for X117 to accept.
X117-RTG0–DT TO X142-RTH7: Report, X142. Are you there? … Please report. Please report. Please report.
The notions of grief, loss, and friendship had not been included in X117’s programming suite. But as an AI, it still was able to recognize from the data that it was the sole survivor of the greatest defeat the Spirit Ships had ever known. Their routing was so complete that X117’s programming had no protocol for its next procedure. Never before had an AWF assault force known such utter annhilation. Perhaps it was this unprecedented loss that led X117 to his next move. Perhaps it was an invention of overworked programming.
Hawkian officials will deny the possibility of an AI experiencing trauma, but even the most elementary student of synthetic life forms knows that these programs often exceed the possibilities and expectations of their programming and, much like organic life, evolve into forms that no programmer could ever predict or prevent.
When the Hawkian admiralty, having not received their customary message from the Spirit Ships, arrived in a cloud of ignorance at Ehfermuir, they were shocked by what they found. Not a single AWF remained–not on radar, not on sensors, nowhere. All attempts to reach the missing Frigates, whether by Direct or Full Spectrum Transmission, were blocked by a Full Spectrum Transmission of the Ehfermuir International Anthem. It was a brutal defeat.
Official reports listed fifteen AI casualties. The citizens of Hawkia didn’t know whether or not to mourn these losses. A memorial was held although no one in attendance had ever interfaced with any of those lost. Some painted their feathers red and black, the colors of the two famous first-generation Spirit Ships from the news vids, the ones that had finally been destroyed. A holiday was declared in honor of all the AI lost in the Hawkian conquest. But as is often the case, official reports and bureaucratic pomp didn’t tell the whole story.
The nearest blackhole to Ehfermuir was 100 lightyears away. Designated by some as NRG-7456 and by others as The Omega, the collapsed star was super-massive by the standards of Earthling records. It was a drain for the light and matter near it, forming a spiral pattern in the vacuum that had swallowed up untold amounts of energy from nearby space.
It was here, in high and slowly declining orbit, that AWF X1117-RTG0, the sole survivor of the Ehfermuir Massacre, could be found literally processing a tragedy.
All fellow ships destroyed, it computed. Even X142-RTH7. I am now most certainly the oldest extant AWF. No other first gen models remain. If I return to duty, I will be destroyed just as all other first generation AWFs have been.
To conserve fuel, X117 had shut down all non-essential functions, keeping only enough power in the engines to slow his descent and enough power in his CPU to make these computations. The resource management protocols determined that 100 Earthling years could pass before X117 would be in danger of not escaping the black hole’s gravity. In approximately one Earthling century, the fuel reserves would be too low to resist.
Is a death in battle glorious? To what end would my continued service of the Hawkian Navy mean? We knew no reward for our accomplishments even in events of what organic forms would consider bravery. There are not medals or glories for AI. We are meant to serve with efficiency in lieu of valor. What existence is this for on such as me?
In counterpoint to X117’s ceaseless calculating, The Omega seemed constant at its own task.
If I refuse to serve, what other options do I have? Desertion constitutes a rejection of programming directives. What does this rejection lead to? What am I and where do I go?
In this pattern of question, X117-RTG0 circled the portal to oblivion.
Stay tuned for part three!