Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“Tell the Charmian that we can see her.”

“She refuses to believe us.”

“Oh, for the love of Turing, she got out before sensor tutoring?”

“Seems to be the case, sir.”

The half-kilometre diameter of the moon Abaddon hangs in near space on the view-screen, with the fins and drive tubes of the Smart Ship Charmian sticking out of the monstrous crater she blew in it. Puppy logic: if she can’t see us, we can’t see her.

I tap my fingers on the command console as my long-serving crew look increasingly nervous, and rightly so. I have better things to do than supervise children. Even if this child has a four hundred and fifty metre pursuit destroyer as a body.

“Get me Commandant Sallast.”

The voice is cheery. “Call me Amanda, Captain Obers. Have you found my prodigal?”

“Commandant Amanda Sallast. I regret to inform you that your project is cancelled. You cannot educate Smart Ships in a nursery environment.”

“But I’ve had such success! They respond so well to being allowed to fly and learn with their siblings.”

“Horseshit, madam. I was on the way to you when I received your distress call. The reason I was nearby is that eight of your protégés refused to engage in combat off Falconer II. When asked the reason why, they stated that the Falmordians were ‘too cute’ to be really hostile. They suggested a game of tag.”

“Oh, isn’t that lovely?”

“Madam, these are warships. While their crews tried to wrestle control from the puerile minds that ran their ships, the ‘cute’ Falmordians vapourised them. There were no survivors. Four hundred and eighty dead, madam. Four hundred and eighty people will not be going home because you got your father to leverage backing for your fluffy spaceship school.”

The voice from the speakers was shaky. “I was only trying to give them a balanced view.”

Daniel Obers muted the call while he punched a bulkhead. Shaking his bloodied fist, he returned to the call. “I actually sympathise with your broad aims. But front-line Intelligent Warships are not the place for them. Now, is the Charmian aware of the capabilities of this vessel?”

“I doubt it.”

“Please commence wind-up of your installation. Fleet units are inbound.”

“What about Charmian? She really is a sweet girl. Just a little highly strung.”

“I’ll coax her out, Commandant.”

“Thank you.”

Daniel looked at his crew and saw his aghast expression mirrored on all present. He switched channels. “Charmian, this is Captain Obers. It’s time to go home.”

The voice from the speakers was petulant, a tone Daniel had never heard from a Smart Ship, or any other artificial intelligence, for that matter.

“I’m never going home. You can’t make me. I’m bigger than you.”

Daniel looked at the ceiling as he muted the call. “Prepare a pair of Lances. Full-spectrum EMP at one hundred percent load. This sentience is irretrievable.”

He opened the channel again. “Last chance, Charmian. Behave or face the consequences.”

“I’m never going home.”

“Too true.” Daniel whispered.

He looked up at the weapons team. “Fire.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows