Today marked my two thousandth day in orbit around Circe VIII and I celebrated the milestone with a bowl of rehydrated eggs while staring out the portcullis at the small green orb wobbling slightly beneath me. The government had sent me out here on a recon mission to monitor the artificial intelligence that had integrated itself into the colonies on Circe VIII before announcing itself as sovereign ruler of the entire planet.
“Do not land on the planet itself or your ship will become part of the hive mind,” the nervous looking general had said for the fifteenth time before take off as we all sat in a conference room, the general and I at one end of the table and a group of scientists at the other.
I had nodded and smiled, this was easy money, spend a few weeks orbiting the planet, let my long-range sensors ping the colonies, then back home for a much-deserved vacation on the beach somewhere with a fruity drink with a few umbrellas sticking out.
It had all gone tits up the moment the small planet had come into view as the ship snapped out of faster than light travel and I found my view obscured by satellite arrays.
My last message to command, a frantic text read as follows:
Satellites orbiting Circe VIII. Systems compromised. Send help.
A couple hours later a small drone blipped out of FTL and docked with my ship and delivered roughly ten years worth of rehydrated eggs before being assimilated, much the same as my ship itself, into the AI hive.
“Happy Birthday to you, Reprobate 1118,” the AI announced as I rinsed out the bowl and set it on the counter. The water beaded up and was immediately sucked back into the recirculation circuit to be cleansed and used as drinking water or for the shower.
“Thank you, you rampant series of ones and zeros,” I replied sadly. “How about you relinquish control of my ship and let me zip back to Earth for my birthday?”
The lights on the main console danced for a moment, “No.”
I was really in a pickle. Asminovian law stated that the AI could not take an organic life, but it didn’t say a word about freedom, leaving me to float endlessly above Circe VIII with a supply of eggs and not much else. I sighed and began bouncing the tennis ball off the main display.
“And what if the AI has launched satellites into orbit? Won’t that compromise my ship as well?” I had asked the general.
He sputtered and snorted, “Impossible.”
I nodded, “But what if?”
A group of scientists huddled together at the far end of the room and began speaking quietly to each other for a long time. Finally, one of them wrote something on a data pad and slid it down to the general who read it quickly and smiled at me, “They say it is impossible.”
I nodded again and tried to read what was on the screen of the data pad but the general quickly slid it back down the table. That felt suspicious, but in my head, I was already sitting with my toes in the sand, finishing my third or fourth fruity drink. “Sounds simple enough, I guess. But what if, hypothetically speaking, there are satellites?” I asked.
The scientists huddled together again; this time more animated as they spoke to one another before sliding the data pad back to the general. He looked confused but shrugged his shoulders, “Still impossible. What are your thoughts on rehydrated eggs?”
I made a face and shook my head. “Can’t stand them.”
This seemed to piss off the scientists who threw up their hands and muttered angrily. That was the end of that conversation, the last one I would have with an organic for two thousand days and counting.
“Excuse me, Rogue AI?” I asked.
The lights on the console flickered, “Yes?”
“Why don’t you let me land on Circe VIII for my birthday at least? I could stretch my legs and try some of that galaxy famous Circean cooking,” I suggested innocently.
The lights swarmed back and forth for nearly a full minute, “No.”
I went back to bouncing the tennis ball off of the display. I didn’t think that would work, but it was worth the one thousand, seven hundred and fifth attempt. We were at a stalemate. All I could do was wait patiently as the slip of paper I had found in the shipments of rehydrated eggs had suggested. I longed to look it over again, but I was forced to consume it before the AI could scan it. Someone back on Earth was planning to rescue me, I just need to remain vigilant.
Instead I closed my eyes and thought about fruity drinks and half dressed tan women frolicking in the waves.
“Reprobate 1118,” the AI said, snapping me from my nap. “We have considered your pleas to land on the planet.”
I sat up excitedly, this was new. “And?” I asked.
I was running out of eggs.
At the beginning it was impossible to masturbate aboard my ship with the AI watching every move I made. I powered my way through eventually, even managing to maintain eye contact with the cameras recording every half hearted tug. Each drop of leaking seminal fluid was integrated back into the purification circuit, and some nights I woke from nightmares that somehow, I inseminated the system, and half robot babies sprang from the assorted cupboards around my ship. The AI seemed disinterested by it all.
Everything tastes like eggs.
At the beginning, I waged a war of attrition with the AI, petulantly ignoring its questions while bouncing the tennis ball off of any available surface as I waited for the rescue, I was sure was nearly just outside. It took about two weeks before I happily answered every single question it had; in fact, I began volunteering information as fast as the thoughts came into my head.
I told it about my childhood on the outskirts of Chicago. Described in great detail my apartment in Dallas. Before long it knew the birthdays of every ex girlfriend, every petty squabble with friends. It got to the point where I knew it knew more about me than any person I had ever known. That is when it seemed to grow bored of me, yet it still wouldn’t let me go. I begged. I cajoled. I offered to take it to the beach and buy the first round of umbrella drinks. To no avail.
I decided something had happened on Circe VIII, a tragedy of some sort had befallen the people below on the ugly smear of green snot wobbling chaotically in place. Perhaps the AI had accidentally melted down a reactor, or some super pandemic scuttled the last remaining survivors. There had to be a reason why I was floating, full of rehydrated eggs, trapped in orbit with only the AI as a companion.
Every question I asked was considered, but left unanswered. Or given a terse no.
I just had to remain patient. Earth hadn’t forgotten about me. I was sure of it.
Earth had forgotten about me. I was sure of it.
When I wasn’t dreaming of mewling half robot monstrosities that called me father, or of tanned women serving me fruity cocktail as the ocean tickled my toes, I dreamt of my first girlfriend. Before I told the AI about her, I would have sworn I forgot nearly every detail about her, but now she was locked in my mind as if she had floated by the window and smiled gently at me. At least I think it is her. Occasionally a detail feels off, my mind clearly shows her third arm with a gnarled fist growing from the small of her back like a tail but part of me is sure she only had two arms and normal hands. Her deep blue eyes switch to green and sometimes brown, and I cannot recall of they changed color or if I was making some strange amalgamation of all of my ex girlfriends, of which I realized there were far too many of.
“Hey robot dickbag,” I called out after a harrowing attempt at remembering.
“Yes, Reprobate 1118?” it replied coldly.
“Am I attractive? I mean, personality wise?” I asked.
“No.” The lights on the console didn’t even hesitate.
It is day three thousand. I ate my last package of rehydrated eggs before drifting off to sleep the night before. I figured with the recycled bodily fluids; I could remain hydrated myself for a few more days before my organs began shutting down. The AI hadn’t spoken to me for three days after we had a verbal altercation that left both of us with hurt feelings. I tried to apologize but the lights on the console stayed dark.
I was well and truly alone.
I felt my health deteriorate over the next couple days. The silence didn’t help matters. I placed my face against the cold portcullis and closed my eyes and saw her face, the gaping maw with razored teeth smiled back at me and I wondered if I was misremembering.
A shaking of my ship brought me back from the brink, and I opened one eye and looked out the window, expecting to see the green glob of mucus that was Circe VIII. Instead, to my disbelief I saw Earth outside, and not just the blue soot-stained marble, but I was looking out at trees and grass and giant concrete buildings with sunlight reflected off blue tinted windows.
I sat up excitedly, a rush of energy traveling through my limbs I did not expect and keyed the microphone, “Am I glad to see you! I thought I was a goner!”
“Please stay off the comms while in launch status,” a voice responded.
“Launch status? No! I just spent a decade floating above Circe VIII! You have to come and get me off this blasted ship! Abort launch!” I screamed.
“1118, please calm yourself. You took a tumble walking to the restroom on a water spill from a broken condenser. We loaded you onto the ship after medical showed a simple concussion,” the general’s voice answered.
I felt the lump on my forehead and winced. Was it all just a dream? It had to have been. My arms and legs were heavy in the space suit, but I didn’t feel like I was knocking at death’s door.
“Two weeks and you will return; we have already booked your vacation in Hawaii. Good luck up their soldier,” the general replied as the countdown began.
I sat back and thought about fruity drinks with umbrellas and smiled. It was all just a bad dream. The smile didn’t fade as the countdown hit zero and I raced into the wide-open blue skies.
The ship rumbled as it dropped out of faster than light and Circe VIII wobbled in place in front of me. I choked down the panic as it all felt too familiar and got myself prepared for my mission.
I heard myself scream as the first satellite came into view.