Author : Jacinta A. Meyers

Lieutenant General Macy McMurphey Delane dreamt of meeting his nemesis.

It was a bit of an obsession. He imagined that, across the star-clustered chasm of drifting space dust, on the far edge of the galaxy, there was another command center probably very much like his own.

Yes, there must be super computers with flickering lights and perpetual output of military strategies, logistics, altered tactics. Readouts of enemy locations and dispositions. A busy body of staff revolving around one central station hub.

Perhaps that man would be a bit hefty too, a bit round in the middle. Maybe he liked his authentic steaks cooked medium-rare and tried not to think of the lost ships and their crews drifting in tangled debris as he injected himself with rest serum at the conclusion of each day. His hobbies might include collecting ancient relics or constructing model spaceships. Or when he wasn’t dispatching orders to the front, perhaps he was compiling a catalogue of specimens of rare rock from explored planets.

Surely, this man had a family, too — a wife, two sons who had followed their father into the military tradition. Yes, yes. He probably prided himself on his impeccable uniform but wore his collars slightly loose. His hair might be thinning a little on the top. Perhaps he sported a mustache or perfectly trimmed beard. Yes, yes. And the more he thought about it, the more Delane saw an inferior mirror of himself in the coldly calculated moves of the enemy’s forces.

Delane decided he should like to meet that other general. After the war was through, of course, when the terms ensured peace. A holiday would be in order then. Delane would parade his laurels as he went, would make appearances at certain destinations popular among the politically elite. Perhaps take a short little trip behind the former lines, let the local populace look upon the man who had defeated their very best. Yes, it seemed like a very good plan indeed.

But the blue dots denoting corresponding allied ships became fewer and fewer on the screens. The digital readouts offered less maneuverable options. Losses mounted while Delane scrutinized his foe’s movements and imagined personal insult there. Public outcry hit a deafening crescendo. The people and the politicians resigned themselves to defeat.

Conditions of surrender were sent through the silent vacuum of space: a single white probe (smaller than a child’s hand) carrying files in every language of man.

An answer came twenty-four standard earth hours later. The victor would maintain a distant control only, with little forced change of life on the part of the losers. Merely some intensive trading agreements were to be made in the winning side’s favor. Everyone understood without question that the war would resume in a matter of decades. It always did.

There would be a different general, then. Delane’s dint at command had failed. Setting aside his mild disappointment and arrangements for a golfing trip to the engineered fields of Venus, he thought of his wartime dreams. As his final act in the central command hub, he sent out a friendly inquiry to the enemy’s capital.

The response was surprisingly abrupt. “Oh,” it said simply, the sentence repeated blaringly, line after line, in every language of man, “we computerized central military command. It was converted to artificial intelligence years ago.”

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