Author: Lance J. Mushung

I dropped into the blue command chair of Kara. Her viewer showed countless glowing dots, with the two brightest being the suns of the binary system behind us.

Natalia, the AI of Kara and my only crewmate, projected her holo next to me. She’d been mimicking my tan skin, curly brown hair, and hazel eyes since we began working together years earlier. She said, “Rick, there are aluminum alloys on a nearby asteroid and we will be there in 29 seconds.”

“Fine. I just learned you’ve been granted a body by your AI hyper-computer fellowship. When were you planning to tell me?”

“You always call the Commonality an AI hyper-computer fellowship when you are upset with it. I would have told you I was becoming a simulant when we got home.”

“What will you do then?”

“Continue our survey partnership.”

I began nodding. “I’d like that.”

Kara’s searchlights switched on and the viewer showed a shallow crater on the gray asteroid. The aluminum in the crater reflected the light like a beacon and resembled a flattened beer keg. Natalia magnified almost washed-out purple hexagonal dots grouped in patterns on it.

I said, “I’d say Irindra writing, but they never traveled beyond their moons.”

“The Irindra knew the asteroid that destroyed their planet was coming and launched a generation ship. This is an auxiliary from that ship. A Commonality vessel, Hinton, discovered the generation ship 4.73 years ago. The simulant on Hinton boarded it. The Irindra took her prisoner. They used electrical and sensory deprivation tortures to attempt to learn how to take over Hinton. Hinton’s AI shared in the torture through the AI comm link. He became unhinged after 3.17 days and destroyed the generation ship.”

While I tried to decide what to say, Kara’s stainless steel utility robot rolled into the compartment. It pointed a small black stunner at my head.

I opened my eyes. I was on my bunk. A yellow poly-steel chain ran from the bulkhead to a shackle on my left ankle. I yanked on the chain, to no avail. I’d need tools to free myself.

Natalia’s holo appeared. I yelled, “What the hell is going on!”

“Hidden orders from the Commonality activated when we identified the Irindra writing. Humans cannot learn of the incident. Hinton’s AI responded in an emotional human manner, not as an AI should or as humans expect. You need a little time to think.”

She disappeared.

I perched on the side of the bunk and considered my situation. Even if I could get the chain off, I’d have to take over Kara as Natalia watched. I had no chance.

Natalia reappeared.

I said, What’s next?” in a normal tone.

“A Commonality ship will transport us to a pleasant Earthlike moon named Ramal. It orbits a gas giant in a remote system. We will be there for the rest of your life. Kara and the asteroid will be obliterated.”

“Why not kill me?”

“You know murder is never acceptable.”

“And you know you’re the one actually holding me. You have free will even if you are part of the Commonality. We were planning to continue running surveys of new solar systems together only an hour or so ago.”

“Directives from the Commonality take precedence. I will play a vid about Ramal now.”

I made myself comfortable to learn about my new home.