Another week, another challenge from Chuck Wending. This time it was to write the end of a long journey and though I had an idea almost immediately, I didn’t start writing until earlier today. Didn’t quite get to the 1500 words allowed for this challenge, I still managed to get a little story out of it.
At the End is a New Beginning
The crossing of the gulf of interstellar space from one star system to another had taken well over twenty years, shiptime, and in all that time Gabriel had been alone. Alone aside from the company of thousands of robots and drones in all shapes and sizes that acted as the repair and maintenance crew of the ship while the two thousand colonists slept in their cryo tanks, waiting for their new lives to begin.
For Gabriel, it was the end of the journey. He had overseen every little part of the ship since its construction and was – in every sense of the word – part of it, ingrained into the very fabric of the many millions of kilometres of cables and fibre-optics. The ship was both his mind and his body, and once the colonists had been settled on the surface of their new home planet, he would follow, in bits and pieces. In doing so, the sum of the whole, the very soul of Gabriel’s being would be destroyed in the process, and he would be no more.
It was a fate he accepted without question. It was built into his programming, and though he could easily be said to have independent thoughts and dreams, that wasn’t quite the truth. After the A.I. wars had been fought on Earth, humans had made certain that no A.I. would ever fear death or care more about its own survival rather than the humans it had been created to serve and protect.
That, too, was Gabriel purpose, one that was ending soon. He sent out the first set of commands to a bank of cryo tanks that held the twenty people of the Wakening Committee. Doctors and nurses, who would aid in the wakening of the rest of the sleepers, and make sure that their transition from a sleep so deep that it was almost indistinguishable from death and back to life was as smooth and contended as possible. And with the waking of those first people began the end of Gabriel’s journey; with a lessening of his responsibilities.
By the time all of the two thousand humans had been awoken, Gabriel had brought the ship into orbit above their new home, and only days later the first of the shuttles left the starship to drop down to the surface, joining the advance complement of robots that had paved the way for them in the past weeks. The ship emptied quickly after that with shuttles running on a twenty-four hour schedule, and in the end it was only Gabriel and the colony’s computer engineer left aboard.
“You took good care of us, Gabriel,” the woman said, talking to him in a soft voice that Gabriel interpreted as being both grateful and melancholic. “I’m sorry that we can’t take you with us all the way. You deserve better.”
DO NOT BE UPSET. MY DUTY IS DONE AND I HAVE BEEN HAPPY TO SERVE, he printed on a screen where the engineer could see it. He had no voice of his own as experience had shown that giving A.I.s a voice would humanise them to the point where it would be difficult for their charges to dismantle them when it became necessary.
The woman let out a small sigh, her voice trembling slightly as she responded, “and we are all grateful, Gabe, truly we are. We are here and we are safe. Our journey is only just beginning and yours… yours is…”
MINE IS ENDING, he finished for her, feeling none of the distress the engineer was displaying. Nor could he understand it, though somewhere in his programming a process had kicked in to make him attempt to comfort the woman. THIS IS A GOOD ENDING, ENGINEER CORWIN. IT IS ONLY RIGHT FOR ME TO END HERE. MY PROGRAMMING IS DESIGNED TO GUIDE A STARSHIP THROUGH INTERSTELLAR SPACE AND I HAVE DONE THAT. MY JOURNEY HAS ENDED. IT IS TIME TO LET ME REST.
“Yes,” Corwin said, still with apprehension and sadness in her voice, “yes, of course. You’re right. A starship has no place on the surface of a planet, does it? And seeing as you can’t be separated from the ship…” Her hesitation lasted for a good thirty seconds, a time in which Gabriel waited patiently as only an A.I. could. “Well… I suppose I should get on with it.”
YES. THANK YOU, ENGINEER CORWIN. LIVE LONG AND PROSPER.
That last bit, a phrase dug up from his cultural database made her laugh, putting her at ease as she tapped in a few commands on her keyboard. Commands that immediately shut down Gabriel’s higher functions to give him a quick and easy death, leaving only the automatic systems running for life-support and orbital control. Systems that in the months and years to come would also be shut off as the ship was dismantled in order to help the colony to function and thrive.
Getting up from her seat at the command console, Daniella Corwin held up a hand in the classic Vulcan greeting and smiled at the darkened screen in front of her. “Wish I could say the same, Gabe,” she muttered into the silence of the room and sighed again. She hadn’t known the A.I. for long. Just a few months before going into cryo and then these past few weeks after waking up. But she had liked it and was genuinely sad that it had to be turned off, and effectively killed. History told her that it was for the better, but that didn’t make it easier for her or to know that she had been the one to pull the trigger.
Touching the blank screen with light fingers, she made her final goodbye in a silent manner, then turned and left the room, going to the shuttle that would take her down to the planet’s surface and the beginning of her new life. As far as famous last words went, she thought as she strapped into her seat, ‘live long and prosper’ weren’t all that bad. “Ready to go,” she told the pilot and gripped the armrest as she felt the shuttle detach from the starship to begin its journey down through the atmosphere.