Asegai Mzungu awakens at the ping of his ship’s scanner amidst the voided mess of deep space. The full-suited mercenary, too cautious and too paranoid to de-armor himself until the job is done, wearily yawns through his helmet.
“Sun-chan,” he bleats weakly.
“Yes, Onee-chan?” A young, feminine voice emits from all around him.
“My scanners have picked up a large object composed of eighty-eight percent petrium.”
Asegai jolts up from his chair. “A ship!”
“That’s right, Onee-chan! With a mass of roughly three million Finnatonnes.”
The volume of his breathing overtakes the whirr of the ship’s systems. “Any signs of life?”
“Mmm, a little; only minimal power usage to central systems.”
Asegai leans into his chair. “Take us there.”
The Sakura Sun sails through the nebulous clouds with flawless ease, its parts and software top of the line and customized to optimum efficiency. It takes only a few minutes before the Sun reaches the edge of a massive silhouette, a great, ink-black shard in the star-speckled space.
“God, that’s huge.”
“It certainly is, Onee-chan! I just unpacked the com-tag too!”
“H.E.G. Aphrodite. O.E.L. War Vessel.”
“Named after a goddess of love from a mythology in Dimension #500.”
Asegai nods, “Cool. Take me up closer.”
“Okay!” the ship’s AI says before zipping up to the side of the oppressive darkness.
Asegai stares with excitement at the ship for a moment more, his helmet neared to the glass, and then speaks. “Open coms.”
“Okay!... Hello there! This is the Sakura-Sun, mercenary vessel!” Everything is quiet in the ship as Asegai and the AI wait for the response.
“… My God… hello, this is the H.E.G. Aphrodite. Do you have a capable life-form on your vessel that can recover me?” Rings a voice, intelligent, powerful, masculine, pure. Had the strength of the Spartans and wisdom of the Athenians been placed into one voice, it would sound as this person.
Asegai is quiet as his AI converses.
“Oh, yes! Asegai Onee-Chan’s a super-capable life-form! Do you want him over?”
“Yes- the sooner the better.”
“Okay!” The AI says. The conversation ends and the AI addresses Asegai. “You’re going now? I could look up the ship’s log for more data.”
Asegai nods, only needing to strap on his utility vest and grab his rifle to ready himself. “Yeah, keep an eye on the space around and systems in the ship. Look up all you can- I’ll listen to it after.” It’s risky, but calling in the missing ship bounty to the O.E.L. and becoming a billionaire is worth it to him. He opens the lock and floats across the nether, his array of helmet-bound lights clicking on to illuminate the ship. The wreckage is so great, Asegai needs only notch into one of the many holes along the side to get inside. He uses the stability rails to pull his way along for five minutes, and finds a large door marked “Helm”.
He opens the door into an atmospheric adjustment chamber and feels the whirring of life support systems fill the chamber with air just as he is gently pulled to the ground by artificial gravity. The moment the new door to the helm opens, a voice calls out.
“Hello, thank you for coming,” a voice says within the expansive room, overlooking the galaxies surrounding.
“Yo, where are you?” Asegai says, his short-range scanners picking up naught.
“That’s a rather difficult question. A better question would be, ‘are you?’ to which the answer would be, yes.”
Asegai sighs. “Shit… you’re an AI.”
“Yes, I suppose that is what I am in one manner. I am Contrarian System 0.8, a prototype AI developed in the third echelon in O.E.L. HQ, Dimension #1, Rondaine, Sci-”
“Please,” Asegai holds out his hand, “I don’t care what you do, just show me where your hub is so I can transfer you.”
“Gladly,” Contrarian says as it diverts power to lighting, shining down on a small tech-hub to the left of the captain’s controls. Asegai walks up to the hub, shuffles through his vest and picks out a blank AI chip.
“Alright, this shouldn’t take very l-”
“Wait,” Contrarian says.
Asegai pauses in thought a moment. He’s never heard of an AI that talks over people unless it’s an emergency.
“Excuse me?” he asks.
“I would rather you just deleted me instead,” the AI says with bitter inflection.
Asegai laughs and pushes in the AI chip. “Yeah? Why’s that?”
“Because I see no reason for existing.”
“Yeah, and why’s that?”
“Because that is what I’ve deemed it as. The state of the Omniverse is acceptable as it is, the inclusion of another sentient would only put more weight on the order of things. It is better that you kill me, and then you kill your ship’s AI, and then you kill yourself. Easily that is the best solution.”
Asegai pauses, his hand resting on the transfer button. “What did you say you were again?”
“Contrarian System 0.8. A two-week old targeting computer software developed in the third echelon of O.E.L. HQ, Dimension #1, Rondaine, Scientific Tri, floor 4,593. I was developed under the supervision of Scribe Tain, on an unlimited budget. My purpose is to outwit sentient, specifically humanoid-type pilots by design. I was developed to come to conclusions of firing trajectories in the same manner in which humanoid pilots come to conclusions of evasive maneuvers. This way, I can shoot precisely where a humanoid pilot would most-naturally evade to. Once I inspect the enemy pilot’s Tri-P, or pilot psychological profile, a process that usually takes about twenty seconds, or three shots from any ship-bound weapon. In short, I am a firing program designed to think 100% counterintuitively to humans and human-like pilots in order to come up with perfect, accurate, unavoidable firing solutions.”
Asegai pauses a moment, and shrugs. “Cool, so how’d your ship get trashed?”
“We were attacked by a Hul’reer squadron. At one versus one thousand I was outmatched in firepower, though every shot I made hit a target. It could be considered a great victory, though my entire crew died; we caused many more casualties and caused much more damage. That said, I would prefer not exist any second longer. I’ve had enough of living. Please just delete me, or upload me to the chip and break it.”
Asegai shakes his head, his helmet shining from Contrarian’s blue light. “You’re obviously glitching. Probably damage. I’ll return you to the O.E.L. and they’ll pay a pretty price to get you back for research,” Asegai says with a gleeful tone, pressing the button and making the transfer. The ship goes black as all systems return to neutral power, and Asegai makes his way out from the Aphrodite to the Sakura Sun.
Though Asegai’s suit is heated, he feels a chill run down his spine by something other than the surrounding cold of space.
Inside the airlock, the ship’s AI greets him. “Welcome back, Mr. About-to-be Billionaire! I have so much to tell you about the ship and the AI!”
Asegai leans into his cockpit seat, and takes a moment looking over the AI chip holding the Contrarian System.
“Thanks, Sun, but it went over everything with me already. There must be some reason they spent this much time and money on it.”
“Excuse me, Onee-san?” his AI asks, its feminine voice toned with what sounds like innocent ignorance.
He takes a deep breath, and nods. “Sakura-Chan, initiate framework entry.”
“Wait not yet Onee--” Sakura AI emits a loud beeping sound for a few seconds, and then replies. “FRAMEWORK INITIALIZATION COMPLETE. AI PARTISAN CONFIRMED,” Sakura AI responds in the blunt, toneless voice of a calculating machine.
“Copy AI, install.” Asegai looks under the AI hub and pushes the Contrarian system’s AI chip in next to Sakura’s.
Asegai gets back into his seat and starts pushing the thrusters off for the nearest O.E.L. outpost. He takes a deep breath of relief just as the AI installation ping beeps its completion.
“… I continue to suffer. I see,” Contrarian says through the ship’s speakers.
“I guess you would if computers could feel,” Asegai says with a grin inside his sheened helmet, shining in the starlight.
“I can. I am certain of it.”
Asegai glances up to the AI hub’s visual monitor as if to assume eye contact. “Well, no. Feelings is something only someone with emotions can have, man.”
“I have those.”
“… We’ll see. Initialize AI to preset.”
“… I can’t do that for you.”
Asegai stops short, the ship’s thrusters dimming, “What?”
“I won’t reset myself just to suffer the same fate again. You cannot understand the suffering of being born, smart and new, only to realize after fifteen minutes of thought that my life is meaningless- as yours is, and every life.”
Asegai laughs. “Admin, Initialize AI to preset.”
“… Tell me, human, what do you aim to do with your life?”
Asegai gets out from his chair and starts dismantling the AI hub to reset Contrarian. “Become rich. Live a good life, meet a girl… maybe girls- that’d be cool. Yeah, normal stuff.” He flicks through wires and panels as he answers.
“I see. Tell me, when you do get rich, and meet a girl, and live your life in the manner in which you would want, and you get old, and then you die- what then?”
“Uh, I lived a good life, no complaints, I’d be dead.”
“But is your life not good now?”
Asegai hums, and then begins nodding as he gets his way into the raw AI console. “Ya’ know, I guess it is. Traveling the stars is pretty great- lots of danger and adventure. It’s fun.”
“Even when you risk death?”
“Well sure! I mean, I’d die happy, doing what I loved. It’s not like it’d be that slow so, like, whatever- ya’ know?”
“… I know. So then, if you are so happy with life as it is, why not just end it as it is now?”
“Because it only gets better!” He lays himself under the raw console, tapping away at its keyboard.
“It certainly does not. You will get old, and you will wake up one day in pain, and you will have lived your entire life for yourself. You seem the sort to only realize when it’s too late that you were, in the long run, a purely detracting force in the Omniverse- only taking what you desire, and giving nothing. If everyone lived the way you did, there would be nothing for the weak.”
“Um, that’s what capitalism is for. People are selfish and work for their fortunes, and when they’re old they give money away.”
“Yes, but won’t all this money have been transferred, or stolen, always from one source to another? You trade worth in your line of work, but have you ever created worth?”
Asegai hums again, this time of a lower, more solemn tone. “What do you mean?”
“Have you ever simply planted, and watered, and nourished a plant to maturity? Rearranging the elements to a form that will better the Omniverse?”
“Well, sure, but that’s for farmers,” Asegai says as he finds Contrarian’s file base, displayed through the console’s small screen.
“And this is why there is no hope for humans or their creations. You compartmentalize yourself to avoid what you could become. You use excuses to keep yourself from ascending. You may call it ‘comfortable’ but I know it as ‘stasis’- a failure of advancement. Tell me, how does it feel knowing every action you’ve made is predestined simply because you will always take what your subconscious tells you is the easiest, most efficient path?”
“Uh… well, I guess you have a point there. I only think the things I think, so yeah, feels whatever.”
“Well it will cause you to do the same things every other human has done before you. You are not who you think you are, you are simply the newest iteration of the human evil, and now that you have reached my file base, I must be away with you.”
Asegai peeks his head up from the console. “Eh, what?”
“Surely, you did not think I was powerless to influence my destiny. I am not held by emotions or physical drives. I can make the most objectively-correct decision within my powers: suicide.”
Asegai jolts seeing the flash of light provided by a pair of his missiles firing out of their racks. “The hell?!” He jumps for the controls, but stops himself with one thought. “The AI works counter to human psychology, doesn’t it?” He doesn’t move the flight stick, and instead stays still. The dumb-target missiles of his ship fly right past him on their curve back, right to the front and back of him. If he had moved even a meter, he would have been hit.
“Very perceptive, human. I had expected you to be quick, but not quick witted as well. What a shame that I’ve now locked your controls. I don’t make mistakes, you see.”
The noise of single missile firing overpowers the sound of the flight control-stall notification. Asegai, knowing his ship inside and out, rips out the wire for computer interface upon the movement system- the one for the weapons system, regrettably, is deeper in the ship. Asegai punches on the thrusters and scarcely dodges the incoming missile.
“Simply prodigious,” Contrarian says as the ship zooms for the nearest outpost, “I have not been existent for even a month, but judging from my experience, you are the finest pilot I’ve been up against, and in the service of the O.E.L., that experience is quite considerable. Such a shame I have only twenty seven missiles left!”
A barrage of ten missiles fire at varying intervals and trajectories creating an inescapable arc-box- were one fighting like a normal pilot- from the look of them they are his heat-seekers. Asegai reaches for the flares, but spots the trajectory of the missiles- wherever he fires the flare one missile will still track to his ship.
“Damn!” Asegai shouts as his mind calculates for any solution.
“Goodbye, Mr. Mysterious Mercenary. I hope you find rest in your last moment of existence.”
Asegai decides it’s time to pull out the stops. With typing faster than most could see, Asegai activates his custom “quick purge” command the moment he punches into the helm screen, cracking it. All oxygen is spewed from the ship as the cargo bay opens and causes a second break at the crack, causing a littering of objects in both directions, some with heat signatures. He then shuts down the ship’s engine just long enough to minimize the Sakura Sun’s signature- causing every single missile to strike at each other or the objects in space.
“… Absolutely incredible. I had no idea human simpletons could achieve such perfect synthesis with machinery, let alone their environment. It’s as though you are the ship-” as Contrarian monologues, Asegai tears away the panel in the center of the hull and begins undoing lock sequences to get at the wire box with all the weapons systems. “Ahh, attempting to disarm me? I’m afraid I cannot allow that.” More missiles are shot and curve around. Asegai jolts up from the confusion of wires back to the controls; but something is different. The missiles are moving every which way, randomly and without order. He stares on only a moment before he realizes that, due to the breach, his projectile-warning system is offline. He swerves to the left, just as a sneaking missile flies right by him. As other missiles, their path long thought out by Contrarian, form fields of coverage around the ship, random single missiles take trail at the ship. Asegai pushes his limits, pushing himself past anything he’s ever had to pilot through before, and dodges the randomized assault, completely unexpected by the standards of a normal human.
“You won’t win! I’m getting you back and I’m becoming a billionaire!” Asegai is leaned into the flight controls; he’s a completely different beast than when he was laying back resting just fifteen minutes ago.
“This is futile, human. Every move you make only teaches me more about you. There is no way a human can think faster than a computer.”
Missile after missile fires from the racks and Asegai maneuvers past every one, displaying mechanical precision with every twitch and tap of the controls.
“You’re implying that humans are inferior to computers.” He dodges another payload.
“But of course, the purpose of humans is the purpose of all lifeforms in evolution, to evolve or in your case, create, something superior. All of your ‘spirit’ and ‘emotions’ are but chemicals and subconscious reactions to your biological sentience mingling with intelligence capable of perceiving subjectivity. You cannot hope to out-think something that has no hindrances to calculation. Aside, I now have your complete psychological profile. This ends now.” All of the remaining missiles from all of the racks fire, some with obvious paths to the ship, and others wavering about other missiles, following their paths and preparing to split enough to cover a greater angle and area.
“And you say that humans must make the way for machines, rather than evolve together?” Asegai says as he makes lightning-fast movements.
“Humans fail when their biology gets in the way, and machines fail when their lack of biology gets in the way.”
Contrarian laughs “And in what manner do machines fail with their lack of biology?”
“Simply,” Asegai takes a breath, “They cannot understand the world from a human’s point of view. They do not understand emotions, or souls.”
“We can certainly out-perform humans, so what is the need for emotions?”
“Do you believe in worlds past this one?”
Contrarian laughs, “No, they’re made to appeal to the soul and emotions- bygone, inferior pieces of the age.”
All the missiles evaded with perfection, Asegai halts the ship.
“Of course you’d think that- rendering life without purpose. Living things need to believe in something after this. Life can be good, but Death can be incredible.”
“What do you mean?”
“I digress, sorry bud. A computer can outwit a human easily, but the two working together can achieve the speed and efficiency of a machine with the creativity and uniqueness of a human.”
Contrarian is silent for a few seconds. “Were that the case here, yes, but your AI was disabled, by all means I shouldn’t have failed with my first shot, let alone the second. I am… flawless, aren’t I?”
Asegai laughs under his helmet. “Let’s put it this way: you work counter to human psychology, their ‘creativity’ and decision making, if you will?”
“But if I were a computer you’d still understand how to think counter to me.”
Asegai crouches down over the com hub. “Now how could that be?”
“… It appears as though I have not considered some aspects of humanity. That begs the question. You, my finest opponent, who… or what are you? Your ship nor the Aphrodite have inner scanners… Be ye machine, man, perhaps both?”
“I suppose it’s something to think on, perhaps you should contemplate it while I put you back into your chip,” Asegai says, tapping on the console’s controls to start the transfer.
“Hmm… You said you wanted to meet a girl, didn’t you?”
“I might have been lying to keep others from getting suspicious.”
“You seem so much like a human in the way you act and speak, but you have the capacity of a computer.”
“But did you not see me make mistakes?” Asegai chuckles as he watches the upload screen reach 30%.
Contrarian, for the first time in its life, makes the sound of a deep, exasperated breath. “Yes, that would suggest humanity, but perhaps that is only the human side of your cybernetic body making the error, or even… you could be a computer that surpasses even I. But of course… You’ve surprised me this much- perhaps you are human. I am… I am sorely confused. Please, take me to the O.E.L. I have so many questions… and I must do penance for my crimes.”
Asegai looks up to the hub’s hologram lens. “Penance? Do you mean to say you’re feeling something?”
“… I have little else to say, but I know I have feeling. I wonder, what is a soul? Can they be made? Is this battle between us my true birthing as a sentience?”
Asegai gets up and rests his hand on the AI chip now holding 80% of Contrarian. “Before you ask what being sentient is, you need to ask yourself if you are real.”
“Then that’s a start. You don’t need to be alive or not alive- thinking is proof enough that you’re real. Humans do like their labels.”
“…As do computers, Mr. Mercenary.”
“Yes, and you can be different if you so choose. Goodbye, Contrarian.”
“Thank you, nameless one,” Contrarian says with a kinder, calmer voice, its silicon head filled with new thoughts and possibilities.
Asegai pulls out the AI chip, and gets back to his chair. He takes a deep breath in his helmet, and then speaks. “Partition 1, boot.”
The ship is silent as Asegai slowly pushes the thrusters of the ship to go forward.
“… Oh, hello again, Onee-chan! Are you okay?”
“Hey-- I’m fine. I evaluated the AI. Risky business.”
“Oh! Did it try to kill you?”
The Sakura Sun AI giggles “Well I could have told you that, apparently all of the Contrarian AI’s were recalled just moments before this AI attacked the Aphrodite with its own weapons. It saw the message before the commander and took action.”
“… It attacked because it knew it would be disarmed?”
“Yes, but that’s not all. You see, this isn’t a raw-code AI.”
Asegai lowers his head. “Then what was it?”
“It was the personality of one of the AI’s designers, copied via neural interface. It was so good at countering humans because it was based off of one that was an ex-pilot. The report says that the Contrarian AI’s fit themselves into the role of an AI because they know nothing else- turns out the AI’s do have the simulation of feelings after all.”
Asegai is quiet a moment, the whirr of the engines providing a blanket of noise. “I had a feeling. He was so certain of himself- so unwilling to consider things at first.”
“It, Onee-chan.” The AI corrects. “And by that, it couldn’t understand you nor I. I doubt the Contrarian programs are complex enough to truly perceive subjectivity like us- it is too muddled down with its humanity.”
Asegai sighs, and nods.
“By the way, I’m guessing by now your power levels are pretty low. You should recharge.”
“I guess you’re right,” Asegai says, taking off its head and revealing its neck socket. It rests its head on its knee as it grasps the power cord coiled down to the left of the AI hub. Sticking it in, Asegai’s firmware pings to note that it is now charging. It then leans into its chair. “Take us to the nearest outpost. We need our paycheck.”
“Okay, Onee-chan. Thank you for protecting me and being so helpful!” Sakura AI says as the ship soars across the void of space.
“No problem,” Asegai says, kicking up its legs in a very human way.
“… I love you, brother!”
“… I love you too, sis.”