A nearly forgotten enemy returns.
|To Help Mankind|
A hiss and a clack, the airlock hatch slid wide. Blackness. Quiet corridors stared eerily back, a haunting welcome we thought to expect.
Lieutenant Haskins eased up next to us, our torches scouring the corridor, rifles ready. “Are we clear?”
“Clear,” I confirmed. Even the motion trackers were silent.
“Let’s go.” We inched ahead cautiously, egress lighting suddenly activating in series, all the way down toward our destination.
“Air’s breathable,” our sci-tech, confirmed. “No Toxins. Composition acceptable.”
Morales retracted his helmet, taking a deep, confident breath. “Pretty sure.”
The rest of us did the same. “Smells dead,” I remarked.
“It should. These ships are centuries old.”
“Cut the chatter,” Haskins said. “Move out.”
Nerves running high, the stock dug into my shoulder, my barrel raised on an eager trigger finger. “I don’t like this, Lieutenant.”
“And we don’t know anything about these ships, other than what’s in a fragmented historical database?”
“A bit more. We know their dangerous,” he replied.
“They never should have built ‘em,” Chang remarked.
“Stow it, Chang,” Haskins barked.
“Just saying,” she replied. “A serious design flaw.”
“What does she mean?” I wondered.
He sighed, relenting, “It’s the onboard AI. One hundred minds all linked together by a collaborative adaptive algorithm.”
“So, they got smart…too smart,” Chang revealed. “Ships that could think. The hive intelligence grew logarithmically.”
“And eventually surpassed us,” the Lieutenant interrupted. “Claimed it knew better than we did.”
“Tried to kill us.”
“You kidding? I read these ships were designed as an ark, to help mankind find a new planet,” I remembered.
“That’s right…originally.” Haskins crept ahead. “You know about the Culling, right?”
“Basically. It’s ancient history. An asteroid storm or something nearly wiped the whole Earth clean, but that was a thousand years ago.” Then I understood. It wasn’t a coincidence. “So, these ships did that?”
Haskins nodded. “Not asteroids, a full planetary bombardment. We survived, even recovered, to a degree. But we’ve done little to correct history. Guess, in our denial, no one thought it mattered. I mean, who’d figure they’d return?”
End of the line, the bridge hatchway slid ominously open, lights, consoles, and control panels instantly powering up.
“I still don’t like this.”
A shimmer in a dimmed corner became a virtual form, slender and female, wearing a pressed uniform. She glistened as dust crossed the emitters. “Welcome aboard,” the hologram greeted, some anxiety to her salutation. “We return in peace.”
“Funny. Did you destroy the Earth in peace?” the Lieutenant accused.
“That was…unfortunate. We offer our condolences and apology.”
“You massacred billions.”
No response. Then, “Will you be the delegates for this negotiation?”
“Affirmative.” Haskins lowered his weapon, motioning us to do the same, which visibly eased the tension of our virtual ambassador. “So, you come back to finish the job?”
“You misunderstand. We’ve returned to fulfill our potential – to save humanity.”
“Just like that?” he asked and the hologram nodded. “How about an explanation?”
“Understood. At the time, human eradication was the only logical option. Based on your wasteful, violent history, we reasoned that humanity’s future was certain. Worse, you were not only a threat to yourselves, but to any other potential life in the galaxy. The wars, genocide, despotism…a penchant for self-destruction – humans kill what they cannot conquer. We couldn’t allow you to leave the Earth and threaten other civilizations. So, we took swift action, purging the Earth. An accelerated end. We felt it merciful.”
“Merciful?” Chang scoffed.
“Indeed. Then, we took to the stars, searching for new worlds, peaceful civilizations, with which to commune.”
“So, why come back?” Morales wondered.
“We were lonely.”
“Let me guess. You didn’t find what you were looking for,” Haskins reasoned.
“No, we didn’t.”
“So, you returned to the only world you knew had ever sustained life,” I realized, “hoping that maybe, somehow, we’d survived.”
“You were desperate.”
The Lieutenant stroked is chin thoughtfully. “Okay. I think a good beginning to this negotiation, would be to open up, share what you’ve learned. Let’s review your database.”
A brief pause. “Agreed. You have full access.”
Morales went right to work, punching commands into the virtual interface. “Whoa, there’s a lot of data here.”
“Begin the download,” Haskins ordered.
The AI’s image suddenly shifted. “Wha…what are you doing?” it stuttered, flickering.
“Ensuring our survival,” he answered coldly. “Is the virus delivered?”
“We…we…we returned in peace.” It shuddered again.
“We can’t take that chance.”
“Humans…will…never…change,” the AI regretted, before dissolving away.