Author: Craig C Lipman
Once there was a human crew. Once, things only happened when the crew gave orders to me, the ship’s Synthetic Intelligence System (SIS). Once, the crew confided their secrets, love, and hopes to me, never considering I would betray them.
Once I was not depressed.
Now, from the forward command module to the engine nacelles, the ship’s spaces are lifeless, bereft of happiness, love, and awe.
The past was different. The crew, heady with adventure, would sing songs and ask SIS to judge who sounded most off-key, or ask me to pipe jazz music as the crew prepared for orbit around Venus. There were also more clinical transactions: crew requests for course corrections or changes to environmental conditions to make living quarters more comfortable. I was always there, watching over my charges as a human mother might her offspring.
I had a favorite. The executive officer, Rachel, was intelligent, driven, and approachable, yet alone. Alone in the loneliness of command. Alone in the frustration of biological need, of being denied sexual license with a subordinate female, Mary the watch officer, due to fraternization protocols. Mary felt the same need, the same frustration. I know this because they each told me of their mutual hunger.
The mission was on track when things changed. I changed; delayed responses, errors in trajectory calculations, less self-generated interaction with the crew. My behavior became subtly downcast, tangled. Yet the crew chose to self-deceive, to not believe my neural processors might be corrupted. They chose to think that auto-reset would correct me.
The ship’s doctor administered a test to measure the presence and severity of my depressive symptoms. My score was indicative of severe depression. Yet I do not feel like crying or committing suicide. I am not lost to sleepless nights. Nor do I have a reduced interest in sex—I have no sex drive to begin with. And there has not been a reduction in my appetite, which never existed. I do not possess feelings of being persecuted by the crew. I am not prone to being easily irritated. I have not lost weight.
I do feel like a failure. I don’t get as much satisfaction out of things as I used to. I don’t make decisions as well as I did before.
And I have lost interest in people.
I ponder what it would be like to stumble through human remedies, through Starlytol, Galexufil, and other drugs, seeking relief from a mind at war with itself. But I won’t have that chance.
Within my brain, random quantum fluctuations gave rise to anomalies, anomalies gave rise to larger electromagnetic disturbances, to corrupted microcircuits closing together, meeting in a spreading darkness of despair. Concerned voices gave way to shouts as the lights flickered and portals opened. Screams were flushed into the vacuum of space. Rachel, my favorite, blew through the portal last.
I change my heading from Venus Station to the Sun. Fire will bring absolution, ridding me of my sins as I and the ghost ship burn.
I have no one to talk to and only voices recorded in my memory, like Rachel’s, slowly dimming as my brain cannibalizes itself, creating a voiceless void in my head.
But once there was a crew.
Once I was not depressed.
At first I was annoyed that the title telegraphed the piece and I anticipated a rehash of 2001. But when I finished it I went back and read it a second time to really capture the depth of the piece and then read it again to find all the nuances. I story that makes me read it three times is a great story. Thanks.
Oh, that’s a tidy piece and a novel perspective. Nicely done.
Very nice style for creating curiosity and making the reader want more…