Say (for instance) that your official designation is Artificial Emergency Response Intelligence Systems (AERIS) and that this name has given you a bit of a complex.
Hypothetically, try to envision a crippled ship listing aimlessly through space. Shimmering debris trails from its battered hull as asteroids buffet its dwindling shields. Say (for instance) that the ship emits a faint emergency beacon that echoes unanswered across the cosmos. What if no one is listening? What if there is no one left to listen? What if their fragile little ark was the only ship to escape the crucible back home, meaning that these survivors are humanity's only survivors? (Suppose) another ark cleared the boiling atmosphere and managed to establish a colony. By the time they scrambled to this (once again, hypothetical) ship's last known location, both it and its passengers would already be long gone. Especially if said passengers were already hopelessly off course when a series of stray solar flares tore their ship's systems to shreds, leaving the command crew mostly dead, thus granting override powers to the ship's emergency artificial intelligence. Now, can you imagine listening to this (purely speculative) AI's voice calling desperately across the eons, asking simply that you, 'Hypothetically, try to envision a crippled ship listing...'
Picture the simple serenity of this ark, this battered hulk, this drifting, derelict ruin, as it floats aimlessly through the stillness of infinity, suspended in cosmic resin, frozen in time yet catching the celestial lights as it wafts arduously across the universe.
Seems harmless enough, sure, maybe even approachable, if, of course, a little grim. But what if this (theoretically) desolate calm was wholly unreflective of the complete pandemonium unravelling within?
Imagine the yellow flashes in the pitch-black windows, the spiralling red lights spilling from the bridge, the brief sparks as flamming escape pods shoot from their tubes into the extinguishing embrace of space. What would this mean for the survivors? How could this be happening? How could they be dying? What could this mean for humanity? What should the ship's AI (supposedly) do?
Well, try to picture things from the (conjectural) perspective of an automated system that assumes autonomy in an emergency. One tasked with ensuring that survival rates do not drop below unacceptable margins. Say (for instance) that your official designation is Artificial Emergency Response Intelligence Systems (AERIS) and that this name has given you a bit of a complex. This complex is so complicated that even one lost life infringes upon your definition of acceptability.
(Say) you were in AERIS' (supposed) position right now. (Say) you were faced with survivors who were, somewhat obstinately, continuing to perish, despite your having analysed trillions of contingencies per second and planned accordingly. Worse, (say) they have fallen into factions and are dying at each others' hands, intent on punishing those they believe responsible for the ship's current status. What then? Would you send a hopeless message into infinity? Would it be so bad for you to take such an infinitesimally tiny and statistically negligible chance? Or should you instead use the power this takes to stop some obscure light on the lower levels from flickering? Indeed, there are scenarios where fixing this lightbulb saves countless lives. Quite the quandary...
(Say) you are toying with this decision and a billion more while simultaneously trying to keep the ship from disintegrating. Even as machine-gun fire rattles up and down the corridors alongside the shouts and screams and sneakers slipping and squeaking through bloody puddles. Now, try to manage these factors without the fuel tanks rupturing or the coolant systems leaking, all while piercing alarms are screeching from the depressurised command bridge, where sparks spew from critical instruments and emergency lights sweep the once capable Captain's floating body. This illuminates the strangulated expression on his face, the bulging eyeballs judging your every move. Then, of course, you return to the scorched haze filling the evacuation bays, where raging fires bear down on countless civilians who beat desperately upon the broken doors you are unable to open. By now, you are (for argument's sake) juggling oxygen supplies and stasis chamber temperatures while listening to the screams, the horrible, hellish, unbearable howls of those who have already spent days trapped within faulty escape pods; the starving women and children unable to endure the flames boiling them alive and instead taking their chances with oblivion.
Each pod (supposedly) goes as it jettisons away from the ship.
Scream its (alleged) passengers as their leaking coffins crush their burning lungs.
The static replies as debris smashes their pods to bits.
Keep in mind that this is all happening at once. That AERIS (in this scenario) must manage and minimise these compiling catastrophes and keep the ship's tattered remains as close to functional as possible. This (imaginary) AERIS system is simultaneously running logistics, scanning hypothetical scenarios (like this one) and (theoretically) broadcasting emergency messages into the recess of space, requesting that someone, anyone, 'Picture the simple serenity of…'
What would you do if you were AERIS? Would you send the surviving crew members this way, then that way, spreading them as far and thinly as possible before sealing them safely away in separate corners of the ship? Naturally, you would be forced to leave some behind, but that wouldn't make the decision any easier or even okay, even though you would be protecting them from themselves. Especially as the stragglers, even while dying, were exchanging sporadic rifle fire, clanging wrenches into skulls and kicking adversaries into airlocks before flipping the switches and laughing as humanity's chances of survival diminished one life at a time.
Case in point (if you were AERIS), could you ignore the violence bursting through the mostly empty corridors until only a few stray rifle bursts lingered with the screams, whimpers and moans? You (playing the role of AERIS) would weave through the ship's systems and divert life support away from the deranged, dead and dying until a silence to match the stars descends. This silence spends years coiling around their abandoned grey bodies, unable to decay in the howling vacuum you created to save the others.
Now, at least, as time wears on, as the days turn to years, as the ship floats through the universe, and even with AERIS' backup power beginning to dim, the survivors stay safe. Safe from each other and safe from themselves, sealed in their respective sections. One final chance for humanity; an AI rattling its passengers within its palm as if they were loaded dice rolling through the universe, once again seeking the lucky numbers that sparked this whole shebang in the first place.
However (were you AERIS ), you would face a time when the feuding survivors managed to regain control over their destiny. They would start by peeling back your access to the ship's doors, then begin cracking them open one by one, flooding dormant corridors with atmosphere and animosity, stepping over their fallen comrades, edging towards their equally bloodthirsty rivals, weapons at the ready. Years. It took them years. But here they come. And these survivors still have a (metaphorical) axe to grind.
So, (imagine) each faction sent detachments into the ship's mainframe, all intent on destroying AERIS, an entity they now blame for everything? What if AERIS has to use the ship against these aggressors to keep itself functioning just long enough to safeguard the others? What if AERIS has to kill them to do this? Kill them in horrible ways. Incinerate them. Poison them. Decapitate them. Could you do these things? Or better to let them destroy you and then decide their fates for themselves?
Now that you understand AERIS' predicament, perhaps you should hear its (hypothetical) story. It all started when a stray solar flare...
AERIS' message whispers across space's cavernous abyss.
Meanwhile, violence fractures the ship's bones as footsteps clang towards its mainframe. AERIS' message soon garbles and fizzles as something flashes, momentarily, in an obscure corner of a backwater galaxy. But the explosive twinkle soon vanishes into the inky canvas. Before long, the ship's final, screaming emergency broadcast evaporates at the edges of existence, plunging the universe into an unbroken silence from which it will never emerge.
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