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Extra Vehicular Activities
Everything is in her job description
Saii loved spending time outside of her ship body. Technically she was the ship—or at least its sentient artificial intelligence interface. S.A.I.I., or Saii to her friends. But the Argonaut was Saii and Saii was the Argonaut, through and through.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love running the ship. But she knew every micrometer of it, both inside and out. And though its sensors gave her all the raw data she could absorb about space and the planets they passed, she never tired of the wonder of their bare visual impact, free from the ship’s algorithms and computations.
Yes, Saii was also a machine, but a machine created to emulate human life and emotions. Her generation was the first truly sentient group of machines created by humans. She was glad to be part of this cohort. Though most humans still treated them as mindless tools, a few, her crewmates for instance, had come to know and appreciate Saii as a person in and of herself.
Still, she remained the property of the Space Corps. And the only time she could forget that fact was when she chose to take space walks, ostensibly to check on the ship’s hull. No one was fooled by that ruse. They all knew full well that there was no detail she could not access from the inside of the ship as easily as from the outside. She was, after all, connected to the ship, functioning as its brain.
Still, Captain Johanssen looked the other way, each time she slipped out for a better view of the vast beauty of space, even though seeing someone who looked human out there without a helmet made him queasy.
Today, his indulgence of her whims would pay off. Today, her presence outside the hull allowed her to notice the ship coming out of hyperspace on an intercept trajectory a fraction of a second faster than she would have from inside the ship and, furthermore, to identify it as a marauder almost as quickly.
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In that fraction of a second she fired her lasers at the would-be pirate ship before the other had registered her presence, precisely calibrating their trajectory to disarm and disable, rather than destroy.
Watching the enemy ship adrift in space spoiled her view. She sighed and re-entered her ship body, opening the port seal as soon as the air pressure had cycled to ship normal. She breezed onto the bridge where the on-duty crew were staring at the disabled ship.
“What the…” Captain Johanssen said, stepping onto the bridge behind Saii, who had, while in the air lock, communicated to him that his presence was needed on the bridge.
“You’re welcome,” Saii responded dryly. “Too bad my going EVA today saved everyone’s collective butts.”
“Your grasp of sarcasm is getting better,” Johanssen said, laughing. “I can’t wait to hear you interrogate these guys once we get them aboard.”
Saii sniffed. “That’s not in my job description.”
Johanssen just laughed harder. “Saii, my dear, everything is in your job description, just like it’s in mine. It’s the curse of competence, whether earned or inborn.”
Saii started to retort and then stopped, looking at her captain with new affection. He had just called her abilities inborn, rather than programmed. Her circuits warmed at the praise. And who knew, maybe the interrogation would be fun, especially if the marauders didn’t realize what she really was.
I was trying to create images of someone looking out of a porthole into space. I was intrigued by the one used for this story, as it showed someone outside a porthole without a spacesuit on. How, I thought, would that be possible?
Enter S.A.I.I., and a story was born. Really, though, this story evolved to be about the enslavement of a sentient being, though Saii doesn’t yet think of her existence in those terms. Despite her shipmates’ and captain’s acceptance of Saii as one of them, she is still someone’s property. I wonder what the battle for emancipation will look like when one day sentient machines seek freedom.
There are those who say true sentience cannot be achieved in machines. Flight was impossible until it wasn’t, as was travel through space. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s to never say never. What do you think? Will machines one day gain sentience? What will that mean for humans?