The story so far: Our hapless hero, Daniel, is inadvertently rescued from a suicide attempt, and thrust into an Alien Universe. He becomes the only successful attempt at an ambitious scientific project to create a being of astounding potential. The facility he is being tested in is destroyed by an explosion and fire, and he is evacuated into deep space.
It took some time before Daniel was able to think straight. His mind kept playing disjointed snatches of his flight through the moon-base. Dozens of unanswered questions bounced, frustratingly through his awareness.
“We are out of danger, Daniel. You may remove your seat belt and make yourself at ease.”
“Oh!” Daniel had forgotten about the disembodied voice that had herded him into the escape pod. “Thank you… you know… for getting me out of there in one piece.” He knew he sounded as awkward as he felt.
“It has always been my prime directive, Daniel, to make sure you are protected and come to no harm.” Coming from the androgynous, emotionless voice, it was vaguely creepy.
“Well, thank you… Anyway. Um, what do I call you?”
“It is not necessary to give me a name, Daniel. It is only the two of us on the craft. The maintenance bots are not sentient and are not programmed to interact.”
“Um, it must be a human thing. I would really prefer to have a name for someone I am going to be spending some time with. We will be, spending time together, won’t we? And ‘computer’ seems a little… well, it just feels wrong?”
“It is also inaccurate, Daniel. I am more of a software program, than hardware. My designation is ‘Artificially Intelligent Alien Species Interface Protocol ZY-917 version 3684.’”
“Um,” Daniel realised he was not progressing with this at all, “um, would you mind if I called you “Ed”. It would make me feel better.”
“Ed?” the artificially intelligent voice managed to make the tiny word sound completely alien. “No. I would not mind,” came the crisp reply.
“Daniel, we interrupted your maintenance phase, you need to complete it.”
“Yes, yes of course. Ed? What would happen if I missed my shutdown?”
“You would automatically shutdown. This would be potentially hazardous if you were not in a secured location.”
“Oh, I see. Um, Ed?”
“You said you were version 3684. What happened to the other versions?” Daniel was not sure he wanted to know, but it had started preying on his mind.
“They perished with the candidates in question.” The voice was calm and unemotional.
“Yes, Daniel. The candidates were unable to adapt to their silicone drone bodies. They went insane and they and their interface programs were terminated.”
“All three thousand six hundred and eighty-three of them?” Daniel was appalled.
“Yes Daniel. You have been the only successful conversion.”
Daniel subsided into thoughtful silence. He didn’t know how that knowledge made him feel. Other than the brutal callousness of the program, he was still shocked. All his life he had felt he was a failure, he had also felt isolated. Now, he didn’t seem to be such a failure, but there was no one around to cheer him on, or even appreciate whatever it was that he had achieved.
“What is the Project? The one I am in… on… um, the one I was part of?” Daniel had always had a strange reluctance to ask those words of Quorn or Halt. He felt foolish and vulnerable asking them now.
“You, Daniel, are the product of the entire lives of thousands of scientists. Their research and endeavours made your existence not only thinkable, but possible. The Alien Sentience Service started some three hundred standard Argle years ago. Their prime directive was to create a synthetic vehicle for an advanced intelligence. The purpose for this creature would be the advancement of knowledge and to further explore the unknown Universe.”
Daniels spirit’s sank. Advanced Intelligence? Well they had surely gotten that bit very wrong! So he must be some sort of disposable prototype. This Was Not Good. He could hear the echo of Mum rising with his panic.
“Why was I … chosen?”
“Although your entry interview performance was poor,” Daniel felt his indignation rising, “the intake officer identified a certain resilience, initiative and potential in your personality that might be the difference between a successful candidate and another termination. Alternatively, he may just have wanted the commission.” The last phrase held a degree of contemplation that made Daniel think that Ed had just thought of it.
“So what is going to happen now, Ed? Where are we going? What are we going to do?”
“We are to withdraw to a second, secret facility where your training and further programming are to continue.”
“What happened to everyone at the base? Quorn, Halt, Elder Bren?”
There was a micro-pause as Ed seemed to consider his (or her) response.
“The emergency life support had been activated in all of their living quarters. It was not written in my parameters to monitor their condition or likelihood of survival. I do not, however, expect that their survival was likely.”
Daniel took that information in slowly and sat with it for quite a while.
“The project you were part of was not universally popular. A number of groups of political extremists on both ends of the spectrum were opposed to your conversion and activation. My best guess is that the explosion was possibly the work of the Red Hand – an ultra-conservative wing of the Greater Kingdom Party. They would have had the finance and technology to fund an attack from space. Daniel, I need to insist that you activate your maintenance mode without further delay.”
“Sorry, yes, of course. See you later Ed.”
Daniel stayed seated and allowed the now-familiar nothingness to envelope him. After dwelling on his conversation with Ed, he turned his attention to the molecules making up his artificial body.
Again, he noticed a faint hum, and as he focused on it, he could hear it split into a range of frequencies. It shifted slightly, blending and mixing, but once he had heard the separate notes they remained individual, and yet somehow completely whole.
He relaxed into the sound as the thought that someone had hated him enough to try to kill him, and had possibly succeeded in killing the only people he knew, sank in.