Aries 162 shut down the main engines, engaged the station-keeping thrusters, and checked telemetry; the maintenance vessel was in exactly the right position -– forty thousand kilometers from the nexus of the event horizon gateway. Clicking on the intercom, he spoke, “Alliance maintenance ship, Pelican Bay, calling Chimera sub-station, come in.”
The reply was almost immediate. “Chimera Station, copy one-six-two. Status.”
“In position,” Aries 162 responded.
There was a slight pause. “Roger that. Fleet expects hostile traffic your location in twenty-five minutes. Is payload active?”
“Engage per program requirements. Out.”
Aries 162 clicked off the intercom. That was likely the last communication he would have with Command. He wondered: If he were human, would they have said more than “Engage per program requirements?” Would they have cared that he was about to terminate, or in human vernacular, die?
He checked the passive radar screen -- nothing there...yet. But, the enemy was coming. They always did. If the mission was successful, the Seta Corridor gate would be history, and he’d destroy a significant number of their ships in the process. Certainly that was a worthy and honorable way to terminate, or die, whether you were a machine or a human.
Was that actually my thought or one programmed into me?
Being a self-aware, artificial life entity had a down side. Having thoughts like the last one wasn’t helpful at a time like this.
Punching the auto-check button on the demolition module, he watched as the computer ran a diagnostic on the one-hundred and twenty tons of Selium-bond explosives packed next to the quantum engines. Engine emissions would shield the explosives from any probe the aliens might use on the ship. If spotted, they’d just assume the maintenance ship was doing routine work on the gateway...and, it was just the pilot’s bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Aries 162’s mission was to detonate the payload when the enemy fleet entered the gate corridor. The blast would destroy the gateway and the resultant cosmic implosion would wipe out most if not all the enemy fleet. “Two birds with one stone,” his handler told him before he left on the mission. “You’ll be a hero -- what glory!” Then he commiserated, “I wish it was me going instead of an A.L.E. (Artificial Life Entity).
Did he mean that? Or, was it mere hyperbole?
The status light on the demolition module blinked green -- all systems were nominal. All 162 had left to do was punch the “execute” button when the time came.
Interesting term for the button. A double entendre if he ever saw one: execute the mission, execute himself. One could almost think of it as a suicide, only with meaning. Interesting.
Was that intentional?
Aries 162 looked around the small cabin. Lights flickered on the console, wave forms registered on the scanners, colored bars on visual displays adjusted to varying conditions of ships systems. Everything was normal, functional, purposeful, and distinctively non-human.
Just like him. But, if I’m self-aware, am I not sentient?
Descartes had said, “Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am).” He reflected on that. I don’t breathe, I don’t replicate, I don’t have a heartbeat, but I do think. Therefore I am. Aren’t I?
The handler might have volunteered for this mission, but Aries 162 was programmed to accept it...regardless. Any self-preservation components arising from his self-awareness programming were supposedly shunted to a cache’ in a sub-processor, negating them. They could not be accessed; they were not to be considered. Only the mission mattered. His continued existence was secondary, or rather, non-critical.
Was that right?
What did right or wrong have to do with anything? A single entity’s right to existence versus saving billions of lives on Earth was necessarily a secondary consideration -– regardless of whether the entity pushing the button was human or not. The pilot would execute the directive at exactly the right moment, no matter what he thought or what he was. Period.
The passive radar peeped softly. Several images appeared on the screen. The enemy approached -– in force. In that moment, they seemed as only electrons dancing on the scope. No more important than a fuzzy image from some half-baked dreamscape.
Aries 162 had been dreaming of late. He wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t in his programming, but nonetheless, he had. Dreams didn’t make sense to him. They weren’t part of the fabric of his real world and, to that degree, seemed pointless. Somehow, however, they made him feel important, of value, not quite non-human.
If you dream, you are alive.
The ships were close now, and sensors indicated the Pelican Bay was being scanned. A moment later, they stopped. He and the ship were deemed insignificant, a non-threat, a non-entity to the alien armada. Their ships proceeded toward the gateway completely ignoring him.
Do I exist if I am ignored?
Purpose of life musings seemed odd at this moment. After all, he wasn’t alive. But, he did exist. He could sense his exterior, feel the pseudo-skin covering his frame, and revel in his sense of touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing. Perhaps not the way a human could, but in his way, his own personal way.
The enemy fleet was in position now.
Aries 162 had his finger poised above the execute button. So who exactly was he doing this for: His handler at the Chimera sub-station? Billions of nameless earthlings? Or because of a pre-programmed order in his system?
No, he decided. He did it for only one reason. “Because, I decided to,” he cried out loud as his finger pushed the button.