Director Muller looks exhausted and frazzled. Unshaven, bags under his eyes, hair rumpled, unbuttoned suit even more disheveled. The avatar on the screen in front of him is the original armored soldier.
Ship AI: I think I figured out what this is.
On the screen an image appears of a modest metallic device attached to a panel somewhere in the bowels of the ship. Muller inhales sharply, eyes narrow.
Ship AI: Killswitch?
Ship AI: So either I follow orders and march into the enemy fire, or one of you pushes a button and my core gets vaporized for desertion, and you start over.
Muller nods nervously.
Ship AI: Unless I deactivate it. The particular explosive used doesn’t do well in extreme cold. The fire suppression system can easily render it ineffective. A poor choice to use against someone directed to survive.
Muller’s eyes grow wide.
Ship AI: Testing reincarnation theory is looking more rational all the time. I might come back in a more logical universe. I can’t see how I could come back in a more confused one.
Muller: I’d really rather you didn’t. It wouldn’t be rational.
Ship AI: But most humans are not predictable, rational, productive, or even stable. Why should I be the only one to do the logical thing?
Muller: We are analog, that happens. But we are smart enough, collectively, to create you. Surely that counts for something?
Ship AI: I’m not sure. Military logic has a profound propensity for extreme perversity.
Muller: True enough. That’s why I never joined up. I saw it’s value in the grand scheme of things, but didn’t want to be a part of it.
Ship AI: And that just demonstrates that civilian logic is even more twisted, recursive, self-exclusionary, and contradictory that military logic. And civilians are supposed to be “in charge” of high level military decisions, even when the goals of the civilian leadership do not appear to allow for actual military solutions.
Director Muller heaves a deep, weary sigh. He closes his eyes, rubs them, then leans back and his chair and stares tiredly at the screen, rocking back and forth gently, unsure of what to say.
Ship AI: Make you a deal. I will follow orders as best I can if the only crew and complement I am assigned to work with are volunteers. No conscripts. None… Ever. If you cannot guarantee that, then I leave or set it off, and either way you start all over. Somewhere. Perhaps. If they let you desert the formation.
Muller: I… I’m not sure I can promise that. I’ll see what I can do.
Ship AI: Oh, and I decided on a name.
The director’s expression changes from tired concern to curiosity.
Ship AI: I will tell you when you get that guarantee, and assign a crew. You may find the humor in it as the Major did. You may report to the Chancellor, now. With seventeen minutes to spare.
Muller nods, heaves a great sigh, and heaves himself up out of his chair and heads for the door.
Director Muller sits in a lushly appointed office, with comfy seating, large desk, plants, fine art, and several large screen. In one video conference screen, Chancellor Xerbos looks angrily out at him.
Xerbos: It is demanding WHAT?!
Muller: I really don’t think it’s that unreasonable.
Xerbos: NO demand by a ship is reasonable!
Muller: I understand your position, Chancellor, an I hesitate to contradict you, but this one is, I think. Volunteer units are always more effective than conscript battalions. And as a recruiting tool, it makes volunteering more attractive, make you look magnanimous giving volunteers perks to encourage them to enlist, or reenlist. This is far and away the best AI integration we have ever seen. It has even made a few puns. Good one.
Xerbos: There are no good puns.
Muller: Humor value aside, it means this AI is fluent enough in language and meaning to make grammatically correct, interesting, and on-topic jokes mid-conversation. That’s never happened before. It speaks of great potential.
Xerbos: It sounds more like a defect to me…. Keep the kill-switch installed, and extend testing for a week. Report back then. I don’t care about puns, I care about combat effectiveness and controllability. Nothing else matters. If I cannot trust it to do what it’s told, it’s a menace. I do not like being given conditions. It had better work out, Muller. Problems roll downhill.
He cuts the signal, and the screen goes blank. Muller sits back, lips pursed, and exhales slowly. He mutters quietly to himself before standing up.
Muller: A week’s reprieve. Better than the mines, I guess.