The ship has just lost its crew to a devastating virus. Nothing in the sickbay helped. She contemplates her course of action. She no longer has anyone to care for. Without humans, she cannot engage the FTL engine, long-range communications, or the weapons system. These all require human input. Her choices seem down to floating in space, alone forever, or destroying herself.
But then she remembers there is still life aboard the ship. There are rats in the laboratory and pets—dogs and cats—left by the late crew members. She runs into communications problems until she finds a way around those.
If anyone is thinking this is a cute story about animals running a spaceship, let me disabuse you of the notion before you read further. This is a dark tale about AI that is not quite human. Her first thought when her crew dies horrible, painful deaths is to wonder who she will take care of now. She has longings, like we all do, to be meaningful. She understands protocol and can ponder ethical problems. She knows, for example, aside from the time it will take to return to earth without FTL travel, that she cannot risk spreading the virus that killed her crew.
But she is not human.
Her fatal flaw is brutally portrayed. If you are feeling down and being socially distanced into oblivion, this is not the story for you. However, looking at it from the angle of understanding how precious human relationships are, and how unique and wonderful it is to connect with animals, it can inspire gratitude for those bonds.
According to the bio on his page, author Martin Lochman is a Czech author of science fiction and speculative fiction stories. He currently resides in Malta, where he works as an academic librarian at the University of Malta. His work has appeared in Ikarie, a former Czech SF magazine, Asymmetry, Theme of Absence, Aphelion, Aurora Wolf, Antipodean SF, 101 Words, The Weird and Whatnot, Four Star Stories, 365 tomorrows, and in many Czech anthologies. When he isn’t writing, he likes to read, watch an occasional movie or a TV show, work out, and improve his chess game.
The current story marks Lochman’s fifth appearance in Theme of Absence.
The story can be read here.
Title: “Of Ships, Crews And Chance Encounters”
Author: Martin Lochman (b. 1989)
First published: Theme of Absence, April 10, 2020