Author : Arthur Carey
Sacagawea stepped off the damaged recharging grid. Battery life registered in the “failure imminent” range. Within hours, the robot would become an immobile piece of junk in a deserted space station pummeled by raging solar winds and debris.
The scientific team studying the impending death of Copernic 362, a dwarf star of 7.7 magnitude, had left hastily in an escape pod. It was their second forced evacuation after a violent flare-up on the dying star’s surface.
Sacagawea discovered Commander Mary Callis was no longer on the communications link. Nor were her four male subordinates, Slim, Roofie, Jones, and Rako.
Initially wary of serving under a woman, the men had come to like and trust Callis. She joined in the raucous camaraderie of poker games, winning without boasting and losing without complaint. On birthdays, she “discovered” hidden flasks of joy juice and whipped up cakes from limited meal resources.
When her own birthday came, the men surprised their commander with a pseudo female companion—the ship’s made-over general utility robot. They attached black plastic eyelashes above the robot’s view slits and painted the toes of its magnetic boots red, giving it a crude female appearance if not personality.
The robot was an AI model enhanced to perform tedious data analysis. Before the transformation, the crew had referred to it simply as “the bot.” But Callis renamed it Sacagawea after a famous Indian guide in the time long ago. She downloaded data files of women’s history, lifestyles, and preferences into the robot’s memory banks and addressed it as if it were a real person.
The robot reviewed its final instructions from Callis: “Saci, we’re leaving, at least for now. We’ll try to record some of what happens from a safe distance. Try to patch any oxygen leaks. Oh…and sprinkle the garden with whatever liquid nutrient is left in the distiller. If the explosion is another false alarm, we’ll be back within days.”
But the explosion hadn’t been a false alarm, only the prelude to a series of internal blasts that tore Copernic 362 apart.
The station’s lights flickered and died, leaving the interior lit only by sparks from fried electronics equipment and lights flashing beyond the viewports.
Sacagawea switched on a headlamp and waded through strewn laboratory records, broken furniture, and discarded clothing to the attached bubble that housed the bio-regenerative hydroponic system.
Four plastic troughs bristled with greenery. The plastic drip system lay in tatters, LEDs shattered. The robot drained the last of the nutrient from a recycling tank and sprinkled it over the three troughs containing carrots, potatoes, and red lettuce.
Sacagawea pulled two scraggly plants from the fourth trough. Wilted blossoms drooped from sharp-spiked branches. The robot scanned the objects. Classification: Genus, Rosa; Family, Rosaceae; Pigmentation: Crimson; Essence: Tea; Viability: Moribund.
The robot dropped the plants and prepared to grind them underfoot. Unlike vegetables that sustained human life, flowers weren’t eaten. Therefore, they had no function. Without function, there was no justification for their consumption of oxygen, water, and light.
As Sacagawea raised a metal boot, a microcontroller running at 80 MHz and performing 100 million operations per second activated. A visual and aromatic simulation of red, white, and yellow blossoms bobbing gently in the breeze beneath an azure sky flooded the memory nodes of the robot. Sacagawea paused to consider an unfamiliar concept.
What was regret?