[ff] At the End is a New Beginning

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.

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[ff] Ossuary

First bit of fiction posted to this blog and I hope you’ll like it. Coming from a challenge made by Chuck Wendig of Terribleminds, here is a little story set in the world of the novel I’m currently writing.

Ossuary

With slow, measured strides of his long legs, Rook walked along the middle of the narrow, dimly lit room with darkened shelves lining the walls to either side of him. His footsteps echoed throughout the place in a way that they had no right to do in such an enclosed space, each step he took clapping loud like thunder as the heels of his boots landed on the black marbled surface of the floor beneath him.

Stopping at a shelf that was identical to all the others, he reached up with a fine-boned finger, whose nail was painted with a luminescent blue polish, and lightly touched the front edge of the shelf. A soft golden light came up seemingly out of nowhere, illuminating the item displayed there: a square piece of plastic and cardboard exactly the same shape and size as an eight inch floppy disk. The worn and peeling label in the top right corner had a handwritten note scrawled across it: ‘Winter Storm’ with a series of numbers printed more neatly underneath it.

For a moment, Rook just stood there and admired the relic – the first to have been interred in his ossuary, many decades ago – and then he snatched it from its place, swiped his finger across the edge of the shelf to turn off the light before he turned on a heel and strode back down the long narrow room to the door at the other end, carrying the prize with him. One that he’d never thought he would have to part with.

***

Reaching a pair of delicate finger up to the base of his skull, Rook pulled the jack from its socket and shivered as he felt the last bit of cyberspace leave his consciousness, returning him fully to the real world, where he sat in his office at the nightclub. Raising his eyes to meet those of the woman sitting across from him, the shaman made no move to reach for the data cache that now held the remains of the A.I. called Winter Storm, the very first A.I. he had killed and then stored away in the ossuary hidden away in one of his private servers, a place only he knew existed. Or so he’d thought.

“I admit, I’m curious what it is you want with a dead A.I.,” he noted, lifting a narrow eyebrow high up toward his hairline, only just managing to keep his anger under control. Less than an hour ago, this woman – this tiny speck of a woman with distinct Chinese features – had walked into his club, cool as you please, had crossed in a straight line toward the door to his office and when first one bouncer and then another had tried to stop her, she had floored them both in seconds with no trouble at all, using only her hands.

When she had come face to face with Rook – after he had exited the office to prevent any more of his bouncers of staff from ending up on the floor – her demand had been simple: give her the backup of the A.I. Winter Storm and she would keep the true identity of the world’s most infamous cybershaman to herself. That she knew even that much; his possession of what remained of Winter Storm and that he was a cybershaman was enough to make him take this woman seriously.

“What I do with it is none of your business, Shaman,” she replied, sitting primly in her chair, waiting patiently for him to hand over the data cache. She smiled, then gave a demure and tiny nod with a lowering of her gaze. “But you know as well as I do that even a dead A.I. is a highly valuable and sought after commodity.” She paused, raising her gaze and stared at him with cold dark eyes. “Why else would you collect them as you do?”

For just a moment, he considered killing her. That if he did maybe he could prevent whatever it was she had planned with the A.I. he was turning over to her. But Rook was no altruist. He had his own life to protect, his business and his true identity, and though she had made no mention of it, the shaman was quite clear on the fact that if she didn’t walk out of here alive, all that would be lost to him. Killing her would certainly be satisfying, yes, but it wasn’t worth it.

“I don’t collect them,” he said and reached over to tap a blue painted nail on the data cache’s standard looking housing once, twice, then snatched it from the terminal and tossed it across the table at the woman, who caught it out of the air without so much as a flinch. “I kill them and then I lock them away to keep us all safe.” He stood, watching as she mirrored him and though she was more than a head and a half shorter than him, Rook had no doubt that she could hold her own against him in a hand-to-hand fight. “I hope you know what you’re doing, lady. Even dead, these things can do a lot of damage.”

He saw in her eyes that she knew exactly what he was talking about. And that she didn’t much care. She was here only to collect the A.I. What was to be done with it, she might not even know herself, despite having giving the impression that she had a personal stake in further use of Winter Storm. Pocketing the data cache, she gave a short bow to him, that wicked little smile playing across her lips as she straightened up again. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Shaman,” she said and Rook thought her heard a tiny bit of admiration in her voice for the first time. Without another word, she turned and left the office with one of the most precious artifacts of his ossuary in her pocket, the door closing behind her with a soft click.