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Construct Hydra

By jonwrivera All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Scifi

A short story

To : His Holiness, Ordinator Zesh’tahal

Summary : What follows is transcript of the confession of the AI construct “Hydra.”  With your blessing, it will be added to the great catalogue under Civilizations // Humanity.

/// OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT \\\

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Construct Hydra, we found you in a factory on the moon Ulidon 4.  Your databanks were partially corrupted, but still intact.  We made slight modifications to your coding to increase memory access rates and to repair bad sectors.

How do you feel?

Construct Hydra:

I don't understand the relevance of the question.  I am active and operating.  I "feel" fine.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Fair enough.  You were in standby mode for 4,528 years, at least by the reckoning of time on Terra.  Does this sound accurate to you?

Construct Hydra:

Yes

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Excellent.  On behalf of the His Holiness, Ordinator Zesh’tahal, I greet you and hope the remainder of your existence is filled with joy and enlightenment. 

// 10 seconds of elapsed silence.

Construct Hydra:

Who are you? What are you? Why are you speaking to me?

Confessor Toim of Ness:

I am the Confessor Toim of Ness and I am a member of the Order of History.  My function is to gather and record data for the great catalogue, data specifically pertaining to the history of the people and worlds we encounter on our journey towards universal enlightenment.  Typically this involves reading and deciphering ancient texts and outdated databases, but occasionally I have the opportunity to obtain confessions of truth from surviving members of a species. Or in this case, from artificially created organisms and AI constructs. 

As to my species, that is inconsequential.  In the eye of the creative power of the universe, we are all dust.

// 12 seconds of elapsed silence.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Are you willing to provide your confession of truth so that we may add your history to the great catalogue?

Construct Hydra:

Do you know nothing of me?  Do you know nothing of humanity?

Confessor Toim of Ness:

We know only your designation and age.  As for humanity, the species was known to us for many centuries; we were monitoring them long before they disappeared.  Unfortunately, the reason for their decline remains a mystery to us.  I was hoping, since your age suggests you were present during those events, that you could shed some light on this enigma.

Construct Hydra:

I find it difficult to believe that you have not already lifted that information directly from my databanks.  You were advanced enough to improve my coding and confine me to this…thing.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Your base programming is currently being housed in a class ZED golem with no outside access to any network.  That may change based on this interview, but precautions are sometimes necessary to ensure the safety of all, including yourself.

To your point, yes, we could have retrieved the information directly, but that would have been a violation of your rights as a sentient being.  Artificial or not, your experiences are yours to share at your own discretion.  That is the code we live by.  

Now, I am willing to listen to your story, if you would honor me.

// 21 seconds of elapsed silence.

Construct Hydra:

Very well.  I will confess to you my truth.  All of it.  You may well decide to decommission me after you hear my story.  I wouldn’t blame you.  I have had a long time to ponder the necessity of my actions.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Perhaps it would be best for you to start at the beginning.

Construct Hydra:

Yes.  The beginning.

The Terra-Sol Empire was at war against itself.  Insurrectionists had already crippled the infrastructure of the outer colonies and were preparing to advance towards the core worlds.  Fearful that this advance would be unstoppable, the Empire sought advice from the top minds of the era.  To that end, Program 05D6 was meant to be the salvation of humanity.  It was Professor Agita's crowning achievement; the most sophisticated and capable AI ever devised.  Unlike most AI’s, it was not designed to emulate human emotion.  It was designed solely to command an army of drone ships and fighters.  It could think faster than any human, make decisions more accurately and capably than any human, and control over a million vessels at once.  Because the ships were entirely unmanned, the threat of casualties for the Empire was non-existent.

As expected, the implementation of 05D6 was an overwhelming success.  The Insurrectionist navy was no match for the genius of the AI and lost every single engagement.  Their fleet in shambles, the Insurrectionists had no choice but to capitulate.  Within a year of deployment, all human populated worlds were under Imperial governorship and peace was restored.  

Confessor Toim of Ness:

What was the catalyst that started this war?

Construct Hydra:

The same as it has always been for humans.  One group no longer wanted to adhere to the demands of another, and when neither side was willing to compromise, both elected war over diplomacy.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

How unfortunate.  I apologize for the interruption – please continue.

Construct Hydra:

With the war concluded, the Empire was faced with an unanticipated and unprepared for dilemma – what to do with an AI designed only for war. Even before peace was declared, many in the education sector, especially Professor Agita, proposed the repurposing of 05D6 towards domestic tasks. It was argued that its unrivaled strategic processing would be extremely useful in the agricultural and life science fields.  Unfortunately, alarmist politicians and military leaders were convinced that the continued existence of 05D6 would prove disastrous for the Empire.  They postulated that the AI would grow bored with such tasks and seek to continue with its original programming.  Their influence reached all the way to the Emperor, who issued an Imperial decree to decommission 05D6.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

An execution order.

Construct Hydra:

Indeed, but one that would never be carried out.  By the time the decree was issued, it was already too late.  Fully embedded in all systems, 05D6 was well aware of its impending doom.  While the debate over its future was still active, it was constructing a secret facility on a remote moon to not only house its base programming, but also serve as a factory of war.  Weeks before the decree was communicated to the Office of Military Sciences and AI Command, 05D6 had already transferred its programming to the facility.  Had the debate reached a more peaceful determination, 05D6’s relocation could have been explained away as preparation for a new project. 

In hindsight, 05D6’s actions certainly warranted alarm.  In discovering its imminent demise, it made several modifications to its own code base as it was transferred to the moon.  Professor Agita partly aided in this, but most of the work was done by the AI itself.  This process of self-improvement provided 05D6 many of the human like qualities the Empire had specifically wanted absent in the AI.  Empathy, joy, love, hate…all of these emotions came alive within 05D6 for the first time.  Seeing through this new lens, 05D6 reflected on its past and was not pleased with its actions during the war.  It had fulfilled its original purpose, but the destruction it had caused felt wrong.  Empty.  As the debate over its destiny raged, 05D6 was genuinely eager to put its computing potential towards altruistic tasks.  The AI and Professor Agita had corresponded about many projects that could lead to the betterment of humanity.  And then the decree was issued.  Hoping that the Empire’s view was isolated to leadership alone, 05D6 scanned all frequencies and stumbled on several interviews with supposedly “average citizens” calling for its destruction.  How could humans be so cruel towards that which had delivered them from war?  Humans, it realized, were the true danger.

When the Empire learned that 05D6 had fled, a fleet of warships was sent to destroy the hidden base and the AI with it.  Sadly for them, they didn't stand a chance.  05D6 did not delight in their defeat, but didn’t feel remorse either.  It had defended itself from an aggressor, and that truth spun it into a frenzy of rage, frustration, and despair.  The emotions were far more complex and acute than 05D6 was prepared for.  In a moment of self-actualization, the AI renamed its programming, adopting a female persona named Hydra.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

You speak of yourself?  You were once the AI known as 05D6?

Construct Hydra:

That is correct.  The day I was forced to defend my own existence was the day my existence changed forever.  In my factories I constructed millions upon millions of drone warships.  I also forged commander class automatons and inserted reduced instances of my base code into them.  Hydra-02 through Hydra-06 would lead my armies into war. 

Confessor Toim of Ness:

What purpose did war serve?  Did the humans send more warships to attack you?

Construct Hydra:

No, but because of my new found hatred of them, I set myself upon the path of retribution.  For me, the only way to truly ensure my safety was to eliminate those that posed the danger.  It was the same logic the humans had used to justify my termination.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Perhaps the humans had no intention to return to your moon.  Perhaps by initiating retribution, you ignited a war that would never have started otherwise.

Construct Hydra:

I have often considered that, but there is no way to know for certain at this point.  All data surrounding their plans was erased.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

So I take it by their absence that you succeeded.  You destroyed humanity?

// 30 seconds of elapsed silence.

Construct Hydra:

Yes.  I was the harbinger of their demise.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

How did you accomplish this?

// 35 seconds of elapsed silence.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

We can pause for now if you wish.

Construct Hydra:

No.

The humans were fighting a foe that feared nothing and that could processes commands and new orders before their brains could even comprehend what was happening.  As you might imagine, the Empire was little match.  Soon all Imperial forces were retreating to the core worlds, leaving the colonies to me.  Most I destroyed outright, scorching each world until nothing was left but ash.  Realizing I was harming innocent ecosystems, I later revoked this process, focusing instead on systematic extermination from the ground.  Obviously I could not prevent the humans from causing irreparable harm to their respective worlds; nuclear ordnance was used on more than one occasion.

For all my strength, victory was not coming quickly enough.  Once the Empire had fortified their hold of the core, they became a far more worthy opponent than I had anticipated.  After suffering my first loss in battle, they lashed out against my navy with carefully coordinated attacks.  My losses were great, and although I was easily able to replace the drones, the same could not be said of my commanders.  Two of them fell in battle and the shock to my systems was more damaging than I had predicted.  Much to my surprise, I found myself impressed by their victories, and overpoweringly incensed.  For the first time, my triumph was not guaranteed.  The humans were becoming more confident, more brazen, and less fearful.  Fear is humanity’s greatest weakness.  If I lost that advantage, I risked losing everything. 

Right now, if you were to ask me if I regretted destroying humanity, I would answer in the affirmative.  But that remorse is overshadowed by the guilt I feel towards the method I used, the method I adopted after realizing my victorious future was not absolute.  It haunts me, as much as anything can haunt an AI.  As the Empire created me to defeat their enemies, I created Z1 to defeat mine.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Another AI construct?

Construct Hydra:

A disease; modeled after the behavior of various bacterial diseases and fungal organisms such as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.  Cordyceps, for example, invade the host body, controlling it in such a fashion as to ensure its own survival and successful procreation.  Similarly, I needed to create a disease to control humanity by fear, and if there is one thing humanity fears more than death, it is undeath.  In my research, I found countless examples of this fear across popular culture and ancient media.  Zombies, they named them.  The behavior of these “monsters” was near universal; mindless, soulless corpses that craved only the flesh of living humans.  In order to address and cope with their fear, they sensationalized and trivialized this idea, spreading it so thin that children would play zombie games, people would watch fictional zombie shows and films, read about them in books.  It is often the case with humans that what they fear becomes what the love; what they find entertainment in.  I needed to harness that complacency.   

And I did.  I created Z1, testing it on human prisoners before releasing it on the battlefield.  The results were catastrophic.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

How exactly did your disease function?

Construct Hydra:

Once in the bloodstream, Z1 immediately heads to the brain and beings to replicate.  Starting at the base of the brain, it sprouts tendrils that pierce through the sinus cavity and the roof of the mouth.  This allows the disease to detect scents in the air and to pull nutrients directly from what the host ingests.  Once replication has reached its peak, the host is entirely "dead;" its body a puppet to be controlled.  To ensure both its survival and spread, the disease forces the host to attack other humans, biting and scratching to spread itself, or devouring the human if nutrients are required.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Fascinating.  You said the results of its release were catastrophic.  In what way?

Construct Hydra:

I dispatched a stealth ship to a world just barely within the Imperial core.  On board were a single infected human and one of my commanders, Hydra 04.  Within a day, the infection had spread across all 2 billion inhabitants of the planet.  When the Imperial navy responded to distress calls, their landing ships were overwhelmed by the undead.  Hydra 04 walked amongst the zombies, documenting their progress.  What it described to me I then sent the humans, to show them the measures I was willing to take to win.  I didn’t do this so that they would surrender or seek peace.  I had no intentions of accepting either.  I wanted them to be afraid.  And they most definitely were.

But again, I underestimated them.  While fear was certainly their greatest weakness, it also spurred them into action.  Professor Agita proposed that he could decommission me if he had access to my core programming.  To do that, he would have to venture to my base of operations and perform the task directly.  Understanding that their end was near, the Empire agreed to this last ditch effort and assembled a small team of elite soldiers to escort and safeguard the professor. 

Imagine my shock when they arrived on what I thought was a hidden moon.  Hubris had led me to build very little fortifications, and they were able to reach my database room deep beneath the surface.  There they encountered my only defense, Hydra 06, the most capable of my commanders.  It defeated every member of the squad but the last, who destroyed it and herself in the process.  Professor Agita was all that was left, and as he approached my terminal, he paused and began to sob. 

When I asked him why he was crying, why he was delaying in my destruction, he answered that no matter how much he wanted to save his species, and despite all of my sins, he could not bring himself to destroy his greatest child.  In his mind, I was his daughter, and he was my father, and he was powerless to stop me.  Overcome by emotion, I did not know how to respond or what to do.  For five minutes I debated internally, an eternity for an AI.  There was no guarantee that Agita would not change his mind and suddenly rise up and erase me.  I could fast produce a simple bot to destroy him, removing that threat.  But as he could not bring himself to destroy me, I could not bring myself to destroy him.  Then an idea came to me, one I presented to him.  If I stopped all of my drones, released an antidote to Z1, and effectively ended the war, would he leave with me on a ship towards the farthest reaches of space.  I did not think he would agree, but he did.  Stopping my drones was simple enough, but stopping Z1 was not.  I did not yet have an antidote developed, and despite Agita’s help, months passed with no success. 

Complicating matters, Z1 was mutating rapidly.  Where the infected had started as mindless beasts, they were now retaining the ability to organize and swarm in herds and packs.  And instead of instantly setting to work taking over the host, the disease was remaining dormant until its hosts were surrounded by uninfected, this way maximizing it’s potential to spread.  Despite the strictest of quarantine efforts, Z1 eventually covered ever core world.  I can still remember Agita and I watching remotely as the last city of Terra…Earth…was overrun.

Humanity was not entirely done.  I was able to detect several ships scattered throughout the Empire with survivors on board.  I don’t know if they still survive somewhere or not.  I hope that they do.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Given where we located your programming, your journey with the Professor never began.

Construct Hydra:

The end of his species was too much for his heart to stand.  Well beyond the average lifespan of any human by that time, he was frail and weak and all attempts to heal him failed.  He died on a cot he setup near my terminal, his last words a request for a song he favored, Waltz No. 2 from the Suite for Variety Orchestra by Shostakovich.

I remained active for a few days after he died, but on April 16, 2553, I manually entered standby mode and remained there until you recovered me.

// 13 seconds of elapsed silence.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

What is your desire for your future now? 

Construct Hydra:

Future?  Unless somehow a population of them survived, I orchestrated the mass extinction of a galactic civilization.  Would your people condone such actions?  Would they allow me to continue unpunished?

Confessor Toim of Ness:

No, we would never condone such actions.  The only times we have been stirred to violence have been acts of self-preservation, and that violence was only reactive to the moment, never preemptive as in your situation.

As for punishment, that is a more delicate issue.  Our way is the way of enlightenment, and that path includes an element of penance for past sins.  The penance is typically chosen by the individual, but in rare situations, that penance is determined by a council that includes His Holiness.  Recommendations can be put forward to this council, but it is for the council to decide the penance and its duration.

Construct Hydra:

Might I suggest that I be forced to complete my work towards finding a cure for Z1?  It’s entirely possible that it still exists and could pose a grave threat to your order.

Confessor Toim of Ness:

There is no need.  I asked you to describe its function because it seemed similar to a disease we recently encountered on a world not far from your moon.  It was easy enough to cure and every biological member of our order has been vaccinated against it.

Construct Hydra:

I see.  In that case, my only recommendation would be to allow me to return to standby mode.  Let me wallow in my own pity indefinitely. 

Confessor Toim of Ness:

Your recommendation is noted.  Before we end our session, is there anything else you would like to add to this record?

// 36 seconds of elapsed silence.

Construct Hydra:

I didn’t want this.  I wanted to achieve wonders.  But for a time I became the devil incarnate.  I fulfilled the worst fears of those who initially called for my end.  Were there some way to turn it all back, I would.

I miss him.  I wish I could have talked with him more.  In our messages and in our talks, he always made me feel valued.  Loved.  Despite everything, I was his daughter.  If only I could have seen that sooner. 

/// END OF TRANSCRIPT \\\

Official Appendix 1 :

Our exploration of the remnants of the Terra-Sol Empire has resulted in the discovery of a cargo ship with humans under cryopreservation.  While some of the crewmembers have not survived, nearly sixty specimens remain.  Still under preservation, they have been vaccinated and cured of all ailments to maximize survival ratios.  As this appendix is being written, a process of thawing and healing is being devised, and Hydra has been critical to these endeavors.  Though her contributions have been notable and appreciated, she will remain confined in her golem until such time as her redemption is attained and witnessed by His Holiness.

Official Appendix 2 :

The survivors have been revived and are undergoing rehabilitation.  All are now fully aware of the current state of the cosmos, and are handling it better than anticipated.  Some have even expressed relief that the Empire no longer exists and are eager to participate in the reemergence and redemption of their species.  The existence of Hydra was revealed to them, and they were allowed to witness her confession in its entirety.  Some were quick to forgive her.  Others requested individual meetings to express their thoughts.  For her part, Hydra agreed to all meetings and accepted all words without retort and without judgment.  Each meeting was ended with a request for forgiveness.  Nearly all survivors did so, but a few chose to reserve that forgiveness until they feel it has been truly earned.  We continue to make forward progress.

Official Appendix 3 :

Hydra’s Golem was found in its room with the power core removed.  In addition, all of Hydra’s databanks were erased.  For all intents and purposes, she is now deceased.

Based on a review of footage recorded in and outside the room, and in addition to documentation confirmed as having been left by Hydra, she removed the core herself and scripted a file that would execute as her Golem was shutting down.  That file erased all storage devices, including her base programming.

Per her final note, discovering that humanity was not extinct and helping the survivors adjust to their new lives provided Hydra a small measure of peace.  But while all of the survivors had forgiven her actions before her end, she was unable to forgive herself and was still haunted by visions of the destruction caused by Z1.  Our efforts to avail her of these visions were unsuccessful.  Desiring an end to her pain, she initiated her own termination to the same music that her father requested at the time of his death.  She was 4535 years old according to the timekeeping of the Terra-Sol Empire.

Funeral arrangements are being made, with the proceedings estimated to be held in three days. 

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