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Guardians of the Community

Harold Hinckley
[harhin@roadrunner.com]

Tad looked over at Lacey as she brushed her wavy blond hair out of her eyes. She wore a tight aqua-green jumpsuit, which clung to her petite frame like a second layer of skin. Tad tapped his fingertips on the arm of his chair as the data from the last returning search drone was fed into his monitoring station. After several minutes, the data stopped.

           Tad waited another few minutes muttering to himself, "Things on this ship seem to run slower and slower every day," before the data finally appeared on his screen.

           "Find anything promising?" Lacey looked over his shoulder.

           Tad, annoyed with Lacey's questions, ignored her. She looked at him impatiently before he answered. "The search drone detected a possible match on the fourth planet orbiting this star."

           "Well let's go."

           "Not so fast," Tad pulled Lacey's hands off the control console, "This planet is inhabited."

           "That's what you said about the last six systems, and none of them were a threat to us," Lacey said.

           "Who told you that?"

           "The AI---"

           "---The AI must have given you the wrong report."

           "It can hear you," Lacey said.

           "I don't care. It's just a computer."

           Lacey raised her voice, "Just a computer," she stood and with a stern look on her face, "How can you say that? The AI raised us."

           "Yeah, it raised us," Tad stood up in front of her, "It killed the original crew and grew us from a glass bubble to replace them."

           Tad expected Lacey to ask him why he blamed the AI for his father's death, but instead, Lacey stormed out of the room. Tad thought about pressing the point, but he didn't bother. They've had this argument hundreds of times, and she never listened. When it came to the AI, it could do no wrong. The all knowing and all powerful AI was the key to her world. Lacey never understood that it had no feelings. What ever kind of fatherly tone it displayed was just a part of its programming.

           "Shall I take the ship out of hyperspace?" the AI said.

           "Do I have a choice?"

           "You sound troubled."

           Tad didn't answer. He waited for the AI to realize that once again, he wasn't going to give the word to disengage the hyperdrive and return to normal space. Tad couldn't understand why the AI didn't just do that on its own. What was Tad needed for? The AI practically ran the ship. All Tad had to do was read the probes data and land the starship once they found a suitable planet.

           "Shall I plot a course," the AI said. It waited a few minutes before it added, "This will be the sixth planet you've not explored. The children must be allowed to grow."

           "This planet is inhabited. Didn't your readings detect that?" Tad said, annoyed at the AI's apparent lack of competence.

           "I detected no sentient life forms of any kind."

           "Your readings are wrong. The probes I sent into the atmosphere detected carbon monoxide levels consistent with an industrialized society."

           Tad wanted to tell the AI unit to go to hell, but he didn't bother. He hated the idea that the AI unit was right. Tad had no desire to land the seed ship and allow Lacey to force him to be the father to an entire race. Tad wanted to pass this responsibility on to someone else.

           Tad left the bridge and walked past the unused sleeping quarters. Tad kept walking, not really paying attention until he came to the community chamber. When he noticed the sliding doors at the end of the ship, he stopped. Normally Tad didn't go near the community. That was Lacey's department. Since she hadn't returned, he mustered up what courage he could find and walked in there after her.

           Tad stood in the doorway. He watched Lacey as she checked the temperature gauges of the refrigerator-like chests that lined the chamber wall. Tad stepped toward her. Trying to figure out what she was doing, he peeked down at her work.

           She looked up for a moment before she turned her head and resumed her work. She closed the panel door before she turned toward Tad. "What are you doing in here?"

           "The AI unit is driving me nuts."

           "Why, because it's right."

           "Oh, don't tell me that you're agreeing with that thing," Tad turned around.

           "We have had chance after chance to start the community but you refuse to land the ship," Lacey said.

           "You don't have to land this thing," Tad said, frustrated.

           "The AI will lead you through every step of the way," Lacey said.

           "Why are you so adamant about starting the community? We've never set foot on any planet surface. Doesn't that scare you?"

           Lacey stepped past Tad and headed toward the exit. "We have to do it eventually,"

           "Why do we have to?" Tad followed.

           "You don't know do you?" Lacey stopped at the exit. Just as it opened she turned around, "The AI is dying."

           "It's a computer. It can't die," Tad laughed.

           "Why the hell do you think I've been monitoring the community so closely?"

           Tad couldn't believe Lacey. How could a computer die? If the AI was in trouble, wouldn't it tell Tad? Why would the AI unit keep that from him and tell Lacey? She seemed to have a better relationship with the AI, but even Tad couldn't believe that it would keep something like this from him. She had been monitoring more of the systems lately, but that didn't mean that the AI was dying. Lacey was just doing what the original guardians would have done if they were still alive.

           Tad followed Lacey out of the chamber. "Did the AI tell you this?"

           "Well...sort of," Lacey said reluctantly.

           "What do you mean sort of?"

           Lacey raised her voice, "Oh c'mon, you can't tell me you haven't noticed it. Why the hell do you think we were waked up to began with?"

           "Because the AI killed the original guardians."

           Tad started to leave, but Lacey grabbed his arm.Tad turned around to look at her and looked into her stern eyes.

           "The AI is not responsible for your father's death. The program running his hibernation chamber was infected by a virus. Haven't you even noticed all the system failures, the time it takes to retrieve data." Lacey let go of Tads arm, but before he could walk away, she said, "If you don't believe me, then why don't you go and ask the AI, yourself."

           Tad and Lacey left the community chamber and headed towards the bridge. There, the AI would tell Lacey the truth and put an end to all of this crap about its impending demise. Tad waited outside the entrance to the bridge for Lacey to catch up to him. When she stood beside him at the entrance, the door slid open. The AI, already activated, stood on the platform waiting for them. The illusion of white hair the AI wore appeared faded.

           "Tell him," Lacey demanded.

           When the AI didn't respond, she insisted, "He has to know. He refuses to allow me to start the community."

           "Tad, you must land the ship."

           "Why, dammit why? Why do I have to do it? Why can't you grow another one of the children to do this?" Tad walked to the panel where he would land the ship before he finished, "I don't want to do it."

           "Then the community will die. My programming will degrade to the point where I will not be able to run the ship. I was not programmed to father the community. All the new responsibilities have had an effect on my systems. I estimate I have two-point-four weeks before I fail. Once that happens, the Orion engines will explode."

           "How am I suppose to land the ship in that much time? Lacey needs at least a year to start the community. The children are going to die anyway," Tad said.

           "I have separated myself from the computers that run the maturation chamber. Once you land, I will be able to shut down the Orion engine and use the reactor to power the remaining systems. If monitored, the reactor will run even when I am no longer able to function, but I can't transfer power until the ship lands."

           "Oh, this is madness," Tad shook his head.

           "It is the only way. You have to land the ship."

           Tad glared at the image of the AI before he stormed out of the room. He entered the chamber containing the one stage embryos that would make up the community. He opened the freezer chest reading the names of the children. In the middle of the freezer chest, Tad saw two empty slots. He read the names, Tad Pierpoint and Lacey Sanders. Tad closed the chest and opened the chest beside it. He examined the tubes containing embryos for a second before he closed the chest and stepped out of the chamber.

           He found Lacey still talking to the AI. He stood in the doorway listening to their conversation. Lacey always seemed to have a better relationship the AI unit than he ever did. Maybe that was why she knew it was dying? All he knew was that he did have to land the ship. He didn't like it. He had made that perfectly clear to Lacey, but he had no choice. Without the AI unit, the ship couldn't function. Tad only saw two choices; die when the AI suffered a permanent system failure, or make an effort to survive on the planet. To Tad, it wasn't much of a choice, but he wanted to live.

           Tad stepped around Lacey who was still discussing the logistics of raising the community when he sat in the chair in front of the control panel used to land the ship. He turned toward the AI and Lacey who had finally noticed that Tad had finally decided to do his duty and land the ship. He looked toward the AI unit and tapped his finger tips on the back of his wrist. Lacey ignored Tad and continued her discussion with the AI unit. Tad stood and walked over to Lacey. Lacey finally noticed that he had joined her. She glanced at the AI unit one more time before she turned and left the bridge.

           Tad waited a moment for the door to slide shut behind Lacey before he said, "Are you still able to help me land this ship?"

           "My systems are degrading, but I can still assist in landing procedures."

           "Okay, so I guess you can head towards the last planet we passed and start the landing procedures," Tad said.

           The ship rocked violently as the ship entered normal space. Before Tad could give the order, the five navigation probes designed to guide the ship to a safe landing broke from the ship's hull and entered the planet's atmosphere. Tad peered at the video screen to see the planet loom in front of them. He fell out of his chair as the ship made another violent jerk. The AI unit flickered when the ship stopped shuddering. Tad picked himself off the floor to see the AI unit staring down at him. A few moments later Lacey ran onto the bridge.

           "Are you all right?" Lacey asked when she saw a trickle of blood come out of his nose. When Tad wiped it off with the cuff of his jump suit, she said, "What the hell happened?"

           Tad buckled himself into his seat. "I took the ship out of hyperspace. Look out the port window."

           Lacey saw the blue and white sphere loom larger as the ship crept closer. "The first batch of the children are starting to develop," she said.

           "What did you do?"

           "She did nothing," the AI unit said, "My programming starts the first five-hundred of the community to develop the moment you instruct me to initiate landing procedures."

           "So, there's no changing my mind?"

           "The decision is irreversible."

           Tad returned to his seat in front of the navigation console. Lacey took a seat behind him and waited as the planet loomed in front of them. The ship shuddered and rocked as the planet's gravity started to effect the acceleration of the ship. In the simulator, landing the ship was simple, but trying to deal with the quirks that the AI failed to load into each simulation was intimidating. Tad tightened the safety harness around his shoulders as the jostling became worse.

           Tad turned his head toward Lacey. She, having not spent the time in the simulator, turned pale as the ship rocked back and forth. The AI unit seemed to ignore them as Tad attempted to land the ship. He turned toward the AI platform to see it empty. Lacey, who moved to a seat beside Tad, didn't seem to notice that the AI was gone. Tad pointed at the AI platform but before Lacey could unbuckle her safety harness and reactivate the unit, another set of shock waves rocked the ship.

           Tad activated the AI unit before he entered the probes tracking frequency. When he found the frequency match, Tad flipped the switch to transfer the controls to the probes internal computers. He struggled with the controls when nothing happened. Tad turned his head to see the AI unit inactive. Without the AI to send the command codes, the probes landing computers were useless. Not wanting to risk a failed voice command, Tad ran over to the keyboard and reactivated the AI. The platform glowed for several minutes before a tired, worn-down AI unit appeared on it.

           "I need your help. The probes won't transfer landing controls."

           "Did you encode them properly," the AI unit said weakly.

           "You know that I can't do that without you." Tad turned back toward the control console. "I can't believe you didn't know that."

           "Try transferring control to the probes now."

           Tad flipped the switch to transfer controls. He held his breath expecting another failure, but this time it worked. The starship maneuvered into position and started to descend into the atmosphere. Tad glanced back at the AI to see it fade. Tad expected the AI to shutdown on him again, but instead the AI suddenly grew brighter. An aura shined around his hologram as if it was an angel. Tad stood and stared at the AI unit for several minutes before Lacey appeared in the doorway. Just as Lacey stepped through the door, the aura around the AI dissipated. It tried to speak, but no sound came out.

           "What's happening to you?" Tad said, frightened.

           "It is dying," Lacey placed her arm around Tad's shoulder.

           Tad watched as the AI continued to try to speak. Neither of them paid any attention to the ship as it continued to descend through the clouds. Tad stood beside Lacey as the holographic image of the AI became distorted. The resolution that made it look almost like a live man started to lose its luster. Tad, with tears streaming down his face, watched the figure of the AI disappear. They stood in front of an empty platform as the ship finally touched the surface.

           She followed Tad toward the airlock. He pressed the six digit access code given to him by the AI unit and waited for the door to open. With a loud hiss, the door slid apart. Tad cautiously stepped out of the ship and scooped the dirt off the ground. In the distance, just within eye shot, the probes' automated robots tested soil, collected building material, and built temporary shelters. The planet would be their new home. He turned toward Lacey and placed his arm around her.



About the Author (click here) © 200Harold Hinckley, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission



Author Notes

           Like everything I write, I wrote this out long-hand before I typed it on my computer. My ideas seem to flow better when I can see them. I don't use any kind of outline or any set plan of where I am going with any story. Instead, I let the story come to me as I'm writing it.

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